When it was announced that Beetlejuice was going to be adapted as a musical, fans of the Tim Burton film were split between ecstatic and skeptical. How could this cult-classic be reimagined in such a different form, while still staying true to the ghost with the most from the original movie?
The show initially opened to mixed reviews from critics, and while it did earn eight Tony nominations, it didn’t take home any trophies. Yet, in fall of 2019, Beetlejuice started to break box office records, selling out the Winter Garden Theatre.. A mural outside of the theater was quickly filled with thousands of pieces of fan art. Songs from the show started trending on TikTok, one of the songs currently having over seventy million streams on Spotify alone. So, why did the show close when it had so much love from fans?
While musicals and plays are a beloved art form that are often used to convey powerful stories, in the end, Broadway is an industry. It’s unfortunately no different than any other industry–in that its primary goal is to make money.
Though Beetlejuice was growing into a big hit with the fans, for a period it still wasn’t bringing in the money. The Winter Garden, the show’s original home, seats just under 1,500 people; it’s one of the larger theaters on Broadway, meaning a show needs to really be killing it to sell out. It also means the stage is larger, which was necessary with Beetlejuice’s large, moving house sets.
Before Beetlejuice started breaking records in late 2019 and early 2020, the parent company of the Winter Garden, The Shubert Organization, enacted a stop clause on the show. A stop clause is in the fine print of a contract for a Broadway show, and it states that the landlord can evict a show following two weeks of what is considered “low ticket sales.”
But… weren’t sales good? Yes, in the fall–but when the show initially opened, it wasn’t pulling as high numbers of audience members. Thus, the Shubert Organization had enough reason to evict Beetlejuice.
And why did they do so, even after the success? For The Music Man, a cash grab Broadway revival which relied on stunt casting (the casting of a popular star primarily to fill seats).
Beetlejuice fans (including myself) were outraged as rumors of a move began. Other rumors circulated, the primary one being that the show was intended for a limited engagement on Broadway with the purpose of being professionally recorded for HBOMax. The latter rumor would eventually prove to be true, though the pro-shot was never completed due to complications of the pandemic.
Then the world closed, meaning Beetlejuice (and all other Broadway shows) would close their doors–far before the initial stop clause date in June.
Though there were rumors, it wasn’t certain that the show would ever return. The show had large, intricate set pieces and puppets. If it were to move to another theater, as the rumor suggested, it would have to be a theater with a large stage and seating –which ruled out about half of the available performance spaces. Shows on Broadway also didn’t even start reopening until late 2021, posing the question; would the original cast members even be available? Especially since much of the show’s draw came from leading man Alex Brightman who played the titular ghost.
By some miracle, in early 2022, Beetlejuice secured the Marriott Marquis– a massive Broadway theater known for being hard to fill. They were hopeful that with the show’s success pre-pandemic, they’d be able to fill the seats.
There was one factor that helped them do just that for another year on Broadway–TikTok.
Just before the world’s time at home, Beetlejuice started to explode on TikTok. Original Lydia Deetz understudy and ensemble member, Presley Ryan, started to make backstage dancing videos with her fellow castmates.
The internet adored it. People started using the songs from the soundtrack in videos and social media posts. Cosplays started to surface, with songs from the album trending for a few weeks. Beetlejuice even got a makeup line with Revolution. Because of the platform’s algorithm, the show started to reach audiences who hadn’t even known of its existence.
Though Presley didn’t return to the show when it reopened, she was a huge reason for the show’s continued success after its initial closure. Users of TikTok found their love for Presley from the original cast translated to a love for the musical in general, and soon love for its new Lydia–Elizabeth Teeter.
Elizabeth, after joining the show, continued in Presley’s footsteps and made TikToks from the show. She started to post the bows her and Alex Brightman would make up every week, the two of them being best friends and staging fun finales each day (including taking selfies on stage, pretending to sword fight, etc.). Fans of the show would film bows each day, eagerly anticipating what the duo would do next. Many of the videos went viral, bringing attention back to Beetlejuice.
So, though Broadway is an industry focused on money, as seen through Beetlejuice’s eviction–regardless of fan enjoyment, this is one instance in which the fans won. Beetlejuice was able to stay on Broadway until January of 2023 before sending out a national tour that is running through at least the end of the year, and likely through 2024.
While the show differs from the movie, fans, including myself, have found love in both. The musical stays true to the witty, off-beat tones, while adding to the underlying themes displacement and finding a home. Its story is one that deserves to continue to be told.A pure love of a show about a girl finding what home means, a weird dead guy, and a giant sandworm was able to bring Beetlejuice the musical back from the dead. It’s a lore that can keep some hope in the hearts of Broadway fans who dream of the day that the industry listens to fans, and it’s an experience that those of us who were able to be in the room where it happens, will never forget.
Meg Handley is a Senior Television-Radio major who keeps multiple copies of the Handbook for the Recently Deceased on their bookshelf. They can be reached at [email protected].
Art by Selkie Racela.