When it comes to “Bettlejuice” a critic is superfluous. What a critic thinks hardly matters, as this is a show designed for fans of the 1988 cult film to come eagerly to see their memories honored in a Broadway musical. They’ll be rewarded with a flashy, splashy staging and performances sure to elicit loud cheering, although critics, while appreciating the visuals and some elements, may be numbed by the overall onslaught.
For starters there is the powerhouse opening by Alex Brightman in the title role singing “Being Dead.” As he demonstrated as Jack Black in “School of Rock,” he is a very funny guy and a dynamo with seemingly boundless energy. Although dead in the zany plot carried out in the book by Scott Brown and Anthony King based on the film, he is very much alive as an actor who thoroughly dominates “Bettlejuice.” Whether singing, dancing, talking to the audience or getting off gag lines, Brightman fuels the show.
The other plus is the visuals. David Korins, a genius of a set designer, has gone to town here, with a lavish display aided by spectacular lighting design by Kenneth Posner, ear-shattering sound design by Peter Hylenski, clever projection design by Peter Nigrini, puppet design by Michael Curry, special effects design by Jeremy Chernick, magic and illusion design by Michael Weber and hilarious costumes by William Ivey Long. Director Alex Timbers keeps the show running at full throttle, which doesn’t allow much time to think how absurd the entire plot is with its macabre view of death. The choreography by Connor Gallagher is also in line with the energy level. The frenetic music and lyrics are by Eddie Perfect.
The mission of dead and invisible Bettlejuice is to get others to see him, with the key to achieving that having his name pronounced three times in a row. He also finds delight in seeing people die. Sophia Anne Caruso co-stars in the role of Lydia, who mourns the death of her mother and resents her father (Adam Dannheisser) for intending to marry her life coach, Delia, with Leslie Kritzer being dementedly funny in that role.
Key characters are played by Rob McClure and Kerry Butler as the couple Beetlejuice delights in seeing die in a household accident. Members of the ensemble are kept busy in a variety of guises, including wearing skeleton heads. There are also giant puppet creatures springing out with great fanfare and adding to the show’s visual heft.
Plot-wise, the second act gets extremely nutty and challenges one to make any sense of it all. But the show presses onward, with the performers seeming to have a ball and the assorted designers piling on the effects. Judging by the enthusiasm of the audience members at the performance I attended, “Bettlejuice” is satisfying its base. At the Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway (between 59th and 51st Street). Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 27, 2019