“Let’s turn on the Juice and see what shakes loose.”
With Beetlejuice coming to The Hanover Theatre, I’m looking forward to witnessing the impeccable comedic timing, wit, and dark humor that only the creative mind of Tim Burton could birth. Fans of the film, which was adapted to a tv show prior to Broadway, may note one difference between Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the title character Beetlejuice and the Broadway take is the free use of profanity and crass language. In the movie, Beetlejuice himself drops one groundbreaking F-bomb when he’s being ignored. Here in 2024, we are much more used to hearing curses on tv, streaming services and in the media than audiences were when the film came out in 1988.
In thinking about the upcoming show, what stands out to me is that it’s difficult to make an unlikeable character likable. Nothing about Beetlejuice is likable. It’s right there in the gross, detestable name itself.
If we think of unlikeable/likable characters in tv and film, like Michael Scott of The Office, the special sauce to change an audience’s opinion of off-color characters is this: spot-on comedic timing. When done correctly, it can ingratiate an audience with a socially warped or offbeat character. Adding complexity to a raunchy character like Beetlejuice adds a (somewhat?) redeeming quality.
The play does depart from the film plot in several ways, so diehards of the cult horror, fantasy classic will need to prepare for that as well. One departure is the manner of death of the recently deceased prior homeowners who contact Beetlejuice from the Netherworld to scare the home’s new inhabitants away. No doubt that the popularity of Netflix’s “Wednesday” will help modern audiences welcome Lydia, the goth teen originally played by Wynona Ryder in the film. Lydia is the only family member who can see and communicate with the spectors around her.
What I believe the film is asking us, besides questioning mortality (and morality), is what are you willing to do to accomplish your goal? What risks are worth taking? When do you ignore the little voice that says stop – and go for it? The answer is different for each of us.
As we move into a new year, with our own new stories to write, this production is also asking us to consider when it’s time to let things go.