Now in previews at New York’s Winter Garden Theater after a run in Washington, D.C., director Tim Burton’s 1988 cult classic Beetlejuice has become a Broadway musical (opening April 25). The show still tells the story of the eccentric, clownish demon (originated by Michael Keaton and played here by School of Rock alum Alex Brightman) who terrorizes a family grappling with issues concerning both the mortal and the macabre.
One key difference: new music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect (King Kong). “I was in a really fortunate position to have a great, funny and surprisingly moving script in my hands to go off of,” says Perfect, who set out to inject multiple musical influences into the show. “In Tim Burton’s film, Beetlejuice is always turning on a dime by manipulating, seducing and conjuring up magic and illusions all over the place. I knew that if I set out to write one musical style, it would have killed what works for a character who is dynamic and surprising.”
As a result, the score veers between everything from calypso to ukulele folk to death metal and grunge, as two tracks premiering here demonstrate. For “Dead Mom," an anthem Lydia Deetz (Sophia Anne Caruso) performs, Perfect drew on "coming of age and listening to a lot of grunge. That music was inescapable and designed for anybody to be able to play." Lydia, whose mother has passed away and whose father refuses to discuss it, creates "this imaginary figure in her life that she speaks to,” explains Perfect. “It’s got the power chord changes of Green Day or Nirvana and then a very boogie chorus.” Another track premiering here, “Say My Name” (sung by Brightman’s Beetlejuice) references the central plot point: to summon Beetlejuice, anyone must say his name three times. “That song becomes a battle of wits between him and Lydia,” says Perfect of the song, which has references Punjabi rock. “Since Beetlejuice is an old spirit, it felt like we should borrow from the past as well.”
And though the show is driven by Perfect's new tunes, fans of the movie’s iconic dinner scene featuring Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” won’t be disappointed. “That sequence is integral to people’s memory of the movie,” explains Perfect. “We’d feel like we’d be robbing the audience if we didn’t include it.”