By Sarah Downs

Over at the Winter Garden Theater, in a lobby darkly lit in shades in purple and green, Beetlejuice has landed.  On Friday, the audience was almost giddy with anticipation; lights flashed, the kickass band started up and the “show about death” took off, with barely a dip in energy through the last curtain call.  Indeed, the cheer that erupted as the curtain fell was actually deafening.

Beetlejuice (Alex Brightman) is onstage – excuse me, dominates the stage – from lights up to curtain.  Brightman has made the character his own – part lounge lizard, part devilish antagonist, even part vulnerable lost soul.  His comedic timing is impeccable, to the extent that his performance feels improvised.  Beetlejuice the man may be dead, but Alex Brightman is brilliantly alive.

Based on the film by Tim Burton, the musical sticks pretty closely to the original:  A nerdy young couple, Adam and Barbara (Rob McClure and Kerry Butler) die prematurely in an accident at home.  Being dead is bad enough, but they are about to lose their beautiful Victorian house to a very odd family.  Charles Deetz (Adam Dannheisser), not the brightest bulb on the planet has an even odder daughter Lydia (Sophia Anne Caruso) and a completely bonkers life coach-cum-girlfriend Delia (Leslie Kritzer).  Delia has definite, consistently nauseating ideas to redecorate.  With the help of her absurd glamtastic guru (Kelvin Moon Loh) she transforms the Victorian home into a garish travesty of faux modern.  (Sucks–yess!)

Perennially clad in black lace and Doc Marten boots, Lydia remains in mourning over the death of her mother.  Despite Delia’s quirky attempts to help Lydia snap out of it, quoting pithy epigrams like  “Sadness is like kale salad.  No one likes it.  Throw it out,” the girl remains aloof.  Lydia feels invisible in her grief.  Ironically, Adam and Barbara as ghosts are, of course, invisible – but not to Lydia.  Enter Beetlejuice.  He is a demon with a plan.  Let the capers begin!

There are puppets, possessions, trips to hell, levitations, chase scenes, a semi-demented girl scout (an hysterical Dana Steingold), a very memorable dinner party, a little Harry Belafonte, wild wigs and fabulous costumes, magic, light storms, flashes of thunder – the whole megillah.

I really cannot do justice in mere words to just how much fun this dynamic, wickedly irreverent, visually arresting show is.  The heavy hitters of Broadway have created something really special.  David Korins‘ larger-than-life, surreal set, gets more inventive with every scene change.  Ken Posner‘s lighting and Peter Nigrini‘s crazy projections build on and transform the character of the scenes with a flick of the switch.  William Ivey Long lets his imagination go wild with costumes that are both outlandish and perfectly in character.

Everything and everyone hits the mark.  McClure and Butler are adorable as the hapless innocents.  Their transformation in to Adam and Barbara 2.0 is wonderfully kooky.  Dannheiser as Lydia’s father manages to marry sincere paternal feeling with goofy comedy, making the more serious aspect of the narrative believable.  Sophia Anne Caruso as Lydia is extraordinary, with a stage presence that belies her tiny frame.  At times her somewhat Brittany Spears sound production leads her to swallow a syllable here and there, but Caruso carries everything from drama to huge musical numbers with ease.  Leslie Kritzer may actually be from another world; her Delia blazes her own comedic path through the material, bringing down the house with her antics and vocal gymnastics.

At the center of it all, of course, chuckles that delightful miscreant of the afterlife, that slippery demon, that off-the-rails master of ceremonies, Beetlejuice.  Brightman’s performance is dead-on, so to speak.  Don’t miss it.

Beetlejuice, music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect, book by Scott Brown and Anthony King; directed by Alex Timbers; choreographed by Connor Gallagher; musical supervision and arrangements by Kris Kukul; with Alex Brightman, Sophia Anne Caruso, Rob McClure, Adam Dannheisser, Leslie Kritzer, Kerry Butler, Jill Abramovitz, Kelving Moon Loh, Danny Rutigliano, Dana Steingold, Tessa Alves, Gilbert L . Bailey II, Will Blum, Johnny Brantley III, Ryan Breslin, Brooke Engen, Natalie Charlie Ellis, Abe Goldfarb, Eric Anthony Johnson, Zachary Daniel Jones, Elliott Mattox, Mateo Melendez, Sean Montgomery, Ramone Owens, Presley Ryan and Kim Sava.  David Korins, scenic design; William Ivey Long, costumes; Kenneth Posner, lighting; Peter Hylenski, sound design; Peter Nigrini, projection design; Michael Curry, puppetry; Jeremy Chernick, special effects; Michael Weber magic and illusion design; Charles G. LaPointe, hair and wigs; Joe Dulude II, makeup.

At the Winter Garden Theatre, (1634 Broadway) opens April 25th for an open-ended run; for tickets click here, call Telecharge 212-239-6200 or go to the box office at 1634 Broadway.  Ticket prices range from $69 – $300.  Running time 2 hours, 40 minutes, with one intermission.