How the cult classic movie ‘Beetlejuice’ became a frightfully fun Broadway musical
Learn about the differences and similarities between the Tim Burton film and the stage adaptation.
Do you hear that sound, that beautiful sound? It’s the sound of Beetlejuice giving Broadway audiences the fright — and delight — of their lives on Broadway once again! Tim Burton’s cult classic movie first haunted the Winter Garden Theatre in 2019, and after closing amid the pandemic, this story of “the ghost with the most” and his companions, living and deceased, has now been resurrected at the Marquis Theatre.
The 1988 film made a star of Winona Ryder as the morbid teenager Lydia, and Michael Keaton scared up a storm as the titular specter. You won’t see either of them in the Beetlejuice musical (though you will see Tony Award nominee Alex Brightman putting his own ghoulish spin on the title role), and there are lots more changes besides. Don’t worry, though: All the fan-favorite moments from the film remain, like the Deetzes singing “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” while possessed, and the appearance of a massive sandworm.
Before you embark on your own journey to the Netherworld, find out more about how the story of Beetlejuice has changed since its debut nearly 35 years ago. Saying Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice won’t make Broadway tickets appear, but you can snag them below.
Beetlejuice plot summary
The Beetlejuice movie and musical follow a similar plot. In the movie, suburban couple Barbara and Adam Maitland die en route to their Connecticut country house, and the Deetz family from New York — including Charles Deetz, his second wife Delia, and his daughter from his first marriage, Lydia — promptly buys it.
The Maitlands, now ghosts, want the Deetzes out of their house, so they get the “freelance bio-exorcist” Betelgeuse (pronounced “Beetlejuice”) to help them scare the new occupants away. Lydia, resentful of her dad and stepmom, vows to help.
What neither the Maitlands nor Lydia realise is that Beetlejuice has his own ulterior motive: He wants to be visible to living people, not just ghosts, so he can more freely wreak havoc on the world. To do that, he needs to get a living person to fully summon him by saying his name three times.
Some details of the movie’s storyline changed for the musical, so let us be your G-U-I-D-E to the other side — the Broadway side, that is! Read on to learn how Beetlejuice has been transformed for the stage.
Beetlejuice himself has a much larger role.
In the original film, Michael Keaton was considered a supporting actor — even though he played the title role. The movie focuses mainly on Lydia and the Maitlands, and Beetlejuice pops up every now and then to cause chaos.
In the musical, however, Lydia and Beetlejuice share center stage, but Beetlejuice knows how to make himself the center of attention. He narrates the action to the audience while performing plenty of antics within the story. There’s even one scene with multiple clones of Beetlejuice dancing as an ensemble, so if you watched the movie and wished you could see more of Beetlejuice, you’re in luck!
Lydia has an expanded storyline.
Lydia is still a goth, death-obsessed teenager in the musical; however, she’s so much more than that. We know from the movie that she misses her dead mom, but in the musical, she actively tries to communicate with her and attempts to get her new ghostly friends to help bring her back. “Dead Mom” is just one of the heartfelt ballads that Lydia sings about her relationship with her mother, and the 11 o’clock number “Home” is especially tear-jerking. (If you see the show with your mother, like I did, you’ll want to bring tissues.)
Overall, the Beetlejuice musical digs into Lydia’s feelings of loneliness a lot more than the movie, showing how she feels lost without her mother’s support and wishes her dad, who keeps an emotional distance and quickly moves on, would grieve with her. The Beetlejuice musical is pretty flippant about death, but through Lydia, the show also sympathetically acknowledges the hardships that come with it.
Characters are changed and added.
The Beetlejuice musical gets a New Age spin that the movie didn’t have, thanks to recharacterizations of the sculptor Delia and interior designer Otho. Delia doesn’t really sculpt much in the film, but she leans fully into her new role as a relentlessly positive, crystal-loving life coach in the musical.
Charles hires her to help Lydia but — spoiler — it doesn’t work: Lydia resents Delia for being her father’s not-so-secret lover. (That’s another change from the movie, where Delia is Charles’s second wife, though Lydia dislikes her all the same.) And Otho becomes Delia’s “guru” for the musical, aka the life coach’s life coach.
One new character in the Beetlejuice musical is Skye, a cookie-selling Girl Scout with a heart arrhythmia that could kill her with the slightest shock. She only appears in one scene: the Act 2 opener “Girl Scout”, in which she gets the fright of her life (and no cookie sale) when Lydia and Beetlejuice answer the door.
Over in the Netherworld, the musical adds a character named Miss Argentina, a deceased Latin beauty queen who wishes she hadn’t died so soon and who teaches Lydia a lesson or two about making the most of life. There’s also Juno, the director of Netherworld Customs and Processing for newly deceased souls who arrive there. The character was originally called Mrs. Shoggoth, but she was renamed Juno after the Maitlands’ post-death caseworker from the film. In the worlds of the Beetlejuice movie and musical alike, dying is a bureaucratic hassle.
The Beetlejuice musical includes references to other Broadway musicals.
Unlike the movie, Beetlejuice includes plenty of loving send-ups to Broadway musicals. Well, not always loving: The show’s most famous musical reference happens when Beetlejuice threatens to leave the show midway and stick us with the Maitlands as narrators. “They’re boring,” he warns. “Even more boring than Brigadoon. I’ll say it: Fuck Brigadoon.”
Back in 2020, Brigadoon was changed to The Music Man a few times, poking fun at the Hugh Jackman-led revival that was set to take over the Winter Garden Theatre after Beetlejuice closed. Like The Book of Mormon, which also includes wicked spoofs of other musicals, Beetlejuice doesn’t shy away from pointed and raunchy in-jokes.
The Maitlands have a different cause of death.
In the movie, the Maitlands die in a car crash, but in the musical, they die by falling through their house’s weak floorboards, which collapse under their weight. (This isn’t a spoiler, as it happens about 10 minutes in, but it is a twist at the end of a rather upbeat song.) Their new cause of death is even a punchline in an original demo version of “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing”: “I’m not trying to say that you’re uptight and boring, but there’s a little fact that we can’t keep ignoring. I mean, seriously, you guys were killed by flooring!” Beetlejuice sings.
Another change is that the Maitlands summon Beetlejuice willingly in the movie. Remember when we said dying was a bureaucratic hassle in the Beetlejuice universe? Juno tells them they’re required to haunt their house for the next 125 years, and they don’t want to share it. (Can you blame them? They just renovated the place!) So they summon the demon to scare off the Deetzes. In contrast, Beetlejuice is already lurking around the house in the musical. He’s the one who convinces the Maitlands to haunt the Deetzes, hoping a living person will notice him and say his name.
Fun facts about Beetlejuice
Can’t get enough of the (Nether)world of Beetlejuice? Learn even more about the movie and the musical with these fun facts, facts, facts!
- The movie was first written as a full-on horror. The Maitlands’ death scene was originally graphic, and Beetlejuice was originally murderous, looking to possess and kill the Deetzes rather than making them burst into “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).” It became more of a dark comedy after rewrites, and now the “Day-O” scene is one of the most famous parts of the film! It’s just as well; it would have been much harder to turn a horror version of Beetlejuice into a musical comedy.
- Many of the movie's starry cast members — Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin — were actually hesitant to sign on at first. They didn’t know what to make of the script. But not only did Beetlejuice become a success, but Lydia was also Ryder’s breakout role. The only actors who joined eagerly were the Delias: Smash and The Addams Family star Anjelica Huston was originally cast in the role, but when she had to drop out, Catherine O’Hara signed on to replace her right away.
- Speaking of cast changes, Christopher Fitzgerald originally played the part of Beetlejuice in the musical’s very first workshop. Alex Brightman took over the role from there on out and scored a Tony nomination for it, but Fitzgerald fans can catch him in Company on Broadway now instead.
- Brightman uses a special vocal technique to mimic Beetlejuice’s gravelly growl. The technique is called “ventricular fold phonation,” and it keeps Brightman from damaging his voice when he, as he jokes in “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing,” “does this bullshit, like, eight times a week!”