Adapting a beloved movie into a Broadway musical is an intimidating enough creative endeavor on its own — never mind tackling one that’s achieved cult favorite status. That’s just the challenge the creative team behind the new Beetlejuice faced, taking Tim Burton’s visually spectacular, twisted comedy to the stage. But thanks to a great deal of eye-popping stagecraft, an incredibly game cast and a tonally on-point score by composer and lyricist Eddie Perfect, the show has won wide acclaim – and, now, eight Tony nominations, including for best original score for Perfect and best musical.
On this week’s episode of the Billboard on Broadway. podcast, Perfect, along with actors Sophia-Anne Caruso (Lydia) and Kerry Butler (Barbara) discuss how Beetlejuice made the challenging transition from screen to stage so successfully. “You’re always juggling serving the film and people’s memory of it and its iconic imagery, and trying to make it work onstage in a two act structure,” says Perfect, who spent most of his career thus far in Australia and started out largely writing solo comedy shows with original songs.
He was attracted to the humor in the story, but also the pathos. “I think comedy’s one of the hardest things to do,” he says. “But I love working in comedy, because I think you can get away with more. I tend toward darker material, and I love how in comedy you can talk about really serious things.” 17-year old Caruso, who most recently starred in the off-Broadway David Bowie musical Lazarus, found similar a similar appeal to the project. “I’m not about just putting on a campy musical that just makes you feel only happy. I like to make people think,” she says. In Beetlejuice, “we discuss dark things, and I think the comedy keeps it upbeat. “
Recalling how he approached writing the score — and capturing the overall kooky mood of the story in it — Perfect recalls how Alex Timbers initially told him to think about “kind of demented carnival music” that called to mind Danny Elfman’s band Oingo Boingo. He’s fine tuned the score endlessly throughout the show’s road to Broadway.
“Eddie’s very collaborative,” says Caruso. “He’s always around and trying things.” For his part, Perfect was pleasantly surprised by the environment around the show. “Everyone says musical theater’s collaborative, and I thought that just meant endlessly having to compromise with other people, but it’s not — it’s super exciting,” he reflects. “It’s the best sand pit on earth.”
Hear the trio chat about navigating the show’s crazy stagecraft, what Butler learned from her time starring in Mean Girls, and much more on this week’s episode.