Pre-Broadway Review: ‘Beetlejuice’

The 1988 film “Beetlejuice” spawned a cult following for the freshly minted “gothic fantasy” style of its director, Tim Burton, and for Michael Keaton’s delicious performance as a comically macabre maître d’ of the netherworld. Thirty years later, Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures and its partners have turned the concept into a decidedly raunchy musical that is laser-targeted to today’s early-teen market. But in its tryout run at D.C.’s National Theater before a scheduled March booking on Broadway, it’s a frenetically paced and woefully overcooked endeavor that’s excessive in virtually every respect.

The story remains a haunted-house fantasy about the efforts of a newly deceased couple (Rob McClure and Kerry Butler) to drive away the annoying new owners (Leslie Kritzer and Adam Dannheisser) of their cozy fixer-upper. Burton’s name doesn’t qualify for the credits, but his influence is obvious in the humorously macabre elements inserted by director Alex Timbers (“Peter and the Starcatcher”) as he otherwise marches in new directions. His decidedly heavier stamp is revealed at the outset, in an elaborate opening number that introduces the players amid a barrage of eye-popping effects. Center stage is the title character played by Alex Brightman (“School of Rock”) as a raspy-voiced and fiendish “emcee,” rather than Keaton’s more mischievous ne’er-do-well.