What Broadway’s Two Very Different Shows About Death Teach Us About Life

“Welcome to a show about death!” the ebullient chorus of “mourners” sings. Then Beetlejuice — as interpreted for the stage by actor Alex Brightman, as a shameless, gravelly voiced vaudevillian huckster — reiterates in his own gleefully glib way: “That’s the thing with life, no one makes it out alive!”


This opening number, “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing,” gives audiences permission to laugh at their own mortality and have a little fun when it comes to rotting while others are grieving. It also serves as a blunt declaration that this is going to be a departure from the original source material — Tim Burton’s iconic 1988 movie comedy that became a cult hit and served as inspiration for a generation of teen goths.

A joyful musical that celebrates death and the afterlife may seem like an odd mixture for audience entertainment, but black humor has long been an antidote to the venom of reality and Eddie Perfect’s wild and witty lyrics keep returning to existential minefields. While fans will be glad to see the dinner party scene in which all those gathered begin to sing and dance to “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” — yes at least one shrimp cocktail comes to life to grab an actor’s face and other objects become animated puppets to terrorize — the two best songs are reserved for the second act when we finally get a glimpse at the characters in the Netherworld (don’t fret, the hunter with the shrunken head appears for a song-and-dance number).

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