Interview with Beetlejuice star Alex Brightman
Last night the Great White Way was re-christened the Great Fright Way as the new Broadway musical Beetlejuice celebrated its official opening at the Winter Garden Theatre. Topping the bill of this highly anticipated adaptation of the 1988 Tim Burton cult classic is Tony Award nominee Alex Brightman, who now finds himself in the very same theatre where his Broadway career shot to stardom in School of Rock back in 2015. Following roles in the likes of Wicked, Matilda, and Big Fish (another Tim Burton movie-to-stage adaptation), Brightman hit the big time by landing the leading role of Dewey Finn (originated on screen by Jack Black) in Andrew Lloyd Webber's muscial version of School of Rock, which led to his first Tony Award nomination in 2016.
Since then, Brightman has been hard at work perfecting his performance as "The Ghost with the Most" throughout workshops in 2017, a pre-Broadway run at Washington, D.C.'s National Theatre in 2018 and now on Broadway. We caught up with New York's R-rated specter at last night's Opening Party at Copacabana in Manhattan to talk all things that go bump in the night...
Congratulations on another Opening Night on Broadway, Alex! How are you feeling?
I am so good and I’m so ready to have a cocktail because it’s been three years of making this a thing. New scripts, new scenes, cutting and editing, not being precious with things, making comedy every day – it’s really been a labor of love. To have a show that is now running is such a treat. I’m on top of the world, man. How could I be sad at a moment like this?
And you’re back in the Winter Garden Theatre, after originating the lead role of Dewey Finn in School of Rock there. Are you back in the same dressing room?
Not only am I back in the same dressing room, but I have the same dresser and I even have the same window trimming. It’s really weird. It’s like being in The Twilight Zone. It’s like I never left!
But a slightly different costume this time around!
(Laughs) A slightly different costume and a very different voice!
Now, Alex. Let’s just say that I’m a huge Tim Burton fan…
OK. Let’s say…
What would you say to re-assure me and all the other Burton fanatics out there about this Broadway stage adaptation?
This is what I can tell you. The ten things that the Tim Burton fanatics and purists want to see in this show, they’re in there! However, we also have 900 other things that we’ve added that I think you’re also going to like, if not more than the things that you’re used to. Trust me – we have the purists covered! We’ve done pain-staking research to make sure that the people who love Beetlejuice as Beetlejuice are getting THAT Beetlejuice.
Because you know we can be a little precious about our Tim Burton creations, right?
I understand that completely.
What do you think might surprise people the most about the musical adaptation?
I’ll tell you exactly what – nobody expects this musical to have a beating heart in it. I think people are coming to see the zaniness, the circus and the vaudeville and the dark comedy that is Beetlejuice. You get a lot of that in the movie. But what I don’t think you get in the movie until the dead end is the heart. We follow the story of Lydia, who has just lost her mother, and that’s a very real topic that we really explore and dive into in this musical. I think people will be surprised that they’re crying by the end. There are moments that are really quite touching.
Are there any similarities at all between the title character you’re playing and the real Alex?
(Laughs) Well, I don’t wanna say I’m a degenerate like Beetlejuice, but I’m a little bit of a degenerate. Only because I enjoy dark comedy and I enjoy pushing the envelope and seeing how far I can take things when it comes to comedy. Other than that, I’m certainly not as snappy a dresser as he is. But he does smell worse than me!
As the run progresses, do you feel yourself degenerating more and more in real life?
Yes! This is it. I’m going to die after the show. That’s just my method. I’m a very method actor (laughs) and I’m actually just going to drop dead after the show is done… in 15 years!
So, by the time the Tony Awards have come around, you’ll just be a big dollop of pure filth?
That’s right. I’ll just be one living, walking dumpster!
There are currently around 36 shows on offer on Broadway at the moment. In your own opinion, why do you think people should choose a night out at Beetlejuice?
Here’s why – Theatre, as a definition, is an escape from your life. I think people come and see theatre to be taken away from the troubles in their lives. Our show does that and more within the first twenty minutes. But our show is doing something that no other show is doing this season, which is reminding people about life. It reminds them to live their life because death is imminent and I think that’s not a bad thing. It’s just about how you choose to live your life. I think a reminder about that – especially in these times – is very helpful.
Beetlejuice Tickets are available now for performances through to October 6, 2019.
(Production photos by Matthew Murphy)