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  • Writer's pictureArts Angle Vantage Journalist

Hilarious, relatable, ‘Beetlejuice’ mines grief with sweet twist on family story

By Jo Lowden | Arts Angle Vantage Reporter

Homeschool Student, Class of 2025


“Beetlejuice,” originally a 1988 film starring Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder, made its musical Broadway debut in 2019, and since then has seen many shows in many different places. Premiering in Louisville on May 14 at The Kentucky Center for the Arts, the musical was filled with unlimited humor, sass and, of course, death.


The story is about a teenage girl named Lydia (Isabella Esler) mourning for her “Dead Mom” when she, her father, Charles (Jesse Sharp), and her “life coach” (and Charles’ secret girlfriend), Delia (Sarah Litzsinger), move into a recently vacated home. This home was not left but taken from the cold dead hands of Barbara (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) and her husband, Adam (Will Burton), after an electrical accident. That was the doing of the show's ghostly co-host Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse (Justin Collette), who uses Barbara and Adam as a ploy to get Lydia to bring him back to life by being his “underage bride.”

Isabella Esler (Lydia), Will Burton (Adam) and Megan McGinnis (Barbara) in the touring production of "Beetlejuice." Photo by Dan Norman. Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.

Collette’s Beetlejuice was highly funny and relatable as a pan-icon showing his love has no limits to gender. (I say this as a pansexual person.) Collette’s stage work left everyone in the audience laughing loudly — from his cheeky dialogue, sexual innuendos and real-world jokes. With talks of gay Republicans, orgies, and sad puppet shows, this musical is very comedy focused. This all made the show much more entertaining.


The musical also stayed close to the movie's theme, keeping iconic scenes like the party with “The Banana Boat Song.” But it also changed the story enough to make improvements such as having Delia being a life coach instead of just a rich, spoiled socialite. It showed more of the family dynamic and more love, especially between Lydia and Charles. While the movie seemed to present a family at the end, this musical showed the evolution of their daughter-father relationship and how much Charles truly loved his daughter.


This musical also had a good amount of dialogue as opposed to other musicals thin on plot in order to include more songs. Here, playwrights Scott Brown and Anthony King weren’t afraid to have a good chunk of dialogue. That added more detail to the story and improved the plot than was present in the movie. While the movie focused on the story of Barbara and Adam, the musical focused on Lydia and her grief over her mother’s passing. That combination created a better story.


The music in “Beetlejuice” was the strongest aspect. Favorites included “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing,” “Dead Mom” and “Say My Name.” These were powerful songs, especially some in the musical’s first half. “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing,” the musical’s second song, is sung by Beetlejuice to the audience as the show’s introduction and is about death itself. It adds more comedy to the musical, changes the pace quickly, and shows Beetlejuice's multiple sides. The show’s sixth song, “Dead Mom,” sung by Lydia, is quite the power ballad. Lydia tries to connect to her mom, begging for a sign that she is still watching her. The vocals are powerful, especially for Isabella Esler’s professional touring debut. Later in the show, “Say My Name,” sung by Beetlejuice and Lydia, has Beetlejuice trying to convince Lydia not to jump from the roof to escape her problems. Instead, he wants her to say his name three times and threatens to make her dad suffer. Both perform amazing vocals with real chemistry in their exchange that shows the dynamics of their relationship.

Justin Collette (Beetlejuice) and the touring company of “Beetlejuice.” Photo by Matthew Murphy. Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.

The fantastical and amazing sets showed spunk while also being somewhat realistic. All of them were surprisingly detailed and could change quickly. There were many different versions of the house, all very different but beautifully strange in their own way.


Connor Gallagher’s choreography was fantastic, but particularly in “Day-O.” The possession scene was similar to the that of the film, but more actors were added to it, making the scene more interesting and funnier. I also loved the choreography for “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing” with Beetlejuice’s several broken ukuleles and the ensemble’s magnificent dancing in funeral attire with umbrellas.


This musical feels like a show about death, but it is so powerful because it closely reflects the real experiences of being a teenager in how it talks about grief. For teenagers, grief is a very common emotion — from experiences involving parents to grandparents and even friends. But not all grief is about death. Grief involves the ending of friendships or moving away from someone close. It can be sparked by parents getting divorced. But it is all normal. These are typical experience all teens feel — just not talked about much.


“Beetlejuice” shows that there is nothing wrong with being a little strange and unusual and that everyone is a little different. That’s not bad and you can really find your people by being yourself.

Jo Lowden (he/they), a rising homeschooled junior in Meade County, is a youth leader at Louisville Youth Group and their local library. He also is active in the process of creating a local LGBTQ group. He is passionate about all things involving mental health and queerness, especially for teens and young adults. Currently, Jo is on track to complete high school at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College for dual credit over the next two years. With sights set on college, he aims to study psychology and pursue a career as a therapist.


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