Who’s the most loveable demon around?
You’ve got to say his name three times. It must be spoken, unbroken.
Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice!
“Beetlejuice,” the last Broadway show of PPAC’s 2022/2023 season, is as good as the best shows PPAC presented this year – and that includes “Tina” and “Six.” “Beetlejuice” is arguably better, as it’s a rare combination of humor and heart.
The musical is based on the 1988 film where Michael Keaton played the title character. The plot is loosely the same. Adam and Barbara, a recently deceased couple, are mentored by Beetlejuice (really Betelgeuse), a demon who desperately wants to be summoned to wreak havoc on the living world. But he can only do that if a living person says his name three times, and he enlists Adam and Barbara’s help to do that.
Enter Lydia Deetz and her dad, Charles. Lydia is still mourning the recent loss of her mother, and in an attempt to “move on,” Charles has purchased Adam and Barbara’s house, the one in which they perished and the one they’re currently learning to haunt, with the help of Beetlejuice. Lydia does not want to “move on,” and she doesn’t want to live in this new house. She can see Adam and Barbara, and tries to get them to haunt the house to scare her father out of buying it.
Lydia can also see and communicate with Beetlejuice, and he tries to get her to summon his services. She resists, and when she learns that Adam and Barbara can perform the possession of others, she decides to cut Beetlejuice out of the picture.
Adam and Barbara take over the bodies of Charles and his life coach/fiancée Delia during a dinner party for a potential investor in Charles’ new gated community idea. The haunting fails, with the investor instead deciding that a haunted house will turn into a goldmine. Desperate, Lydia speaks Beetlejuice’s name three times and suddenly, “It’s show time!”
Let’s face it. Beetlejuice is not a nice guy – he makes it clear that he’s a demon, and that we’re about to see a “show about death.” Justin Collette is perfect as Beetlejuice. While he’s reminiscent of Michael Keaton, he truly makes this role his own. He’s got perfect comic chops, and boy, can he sing and dance. There is no fourth wall with him – he frequently plays directly to and references the audience and particular audience members. He’s an absolute delight.
Isabella Esler is amazing as Lydia. Her bio says this show is her professional debut after recently graduating from high school. What an incredible debut! She’s got an amazing soulful voice and brings the heart to the show with her renditions of “Dead Mom” and “Home.”
Shout out to Jackera Davis who plays Skye, the Girl Scout with the heart condition who visits Lydia and the now-visible Beetlejuice to sell them some cookies. Her song, titled simply “Girl Scout,” is perfectly played.
The audience went especially wild in the last scene of the first act where the “possessed” cast sang Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O,” aka “The Banana Boat Show.” The reaction was no doubt a response to Belafonte’s passing a day earlier, on the show’s opening night in Providence.
There’s so much to like in this show. The Beetlejuice Dancers, the special effects, the lighting, the constantly changing sets, the quick changes and more. There’s some risqué material and a few f-bombs, but “Beetlejuice” is hilarious. And there are a few jokes that seemed to cater to a Rhode Island audience that likely don’t get shared with more conservative audiences in places like, oh, I don’t know, Texas, or Florida.
I smiled from start to finish and laughed out loud quite often. The show got a much-deserved standing ovation that started with the first bows by the ensemble.
“Beetlejuice.” A wonderful blend of hilarity and heart. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
“Beetlejuice” runs through Sunday, April 30 at the Providence Performing Arts Center. For tickets and information, call 401.421.ARTS or visit www.ppacri.org.