NEW YORK — Sing glory hallelujah: The roasted pig’s genitals are gone. So, too, has the egregiously vulgar smirk been wiped from the face of “Beetlejuice,” the improved musical version of Tim Burton’s 1988 cinematic house of ghouls that marked its official Broadway opening Thursday at the Winter Garden Theatre.
When last we left “Beetlejuice,” during its tryout run in November in Washington’s National Theatre, the blithe, dizzily antic spirit of the movie was suffocating under the weight of sophomoric, phallic gags. This reworked incarnation, under Alex Timbers’s direction, breathes slightly more enjoyably even as it remains too faithful to the pumped-up inclinations of book writers Scott Brown and Anthony King and composer-lyricist Eddie Perfect.
Which means that the eager-to-please quotient of a musical about the quest by a bevy of souls, alive and dead, to alleviate loneliness, is still amped up a bit too frantically. This may be of more concern to overly entertained theater analysts than to those musical-theater enthusiasts who thrive on the supercharged exertions of an ensemble on hyperdrive. On a measurement scale of energy-output-per-minute, high-octane “Beetlejuice” would now be the safest ticket in town.
Revisiting a revised show after an initial, unsatisfying experience can skew a reviewer’s perception: If changes have been made, you’re more likely to yield to natural impulses and give the enterprise a break. I do feel for the creative team, and their efforts to look freshly at their own handiwork. The upgrades in “Beetlejuice,” both aesthetic and textual, are all for the better, clearing out some extraneous material and thereby giving more prominence to the show’s best two performances — Sophia Anne Caruso, as death-obsessed Lydia, and Alex Brightman, as the titular trickster from beyond the grave. Wynona Ryder and Michael Keaton thoroughly owned those parts in Burton’s movie, so these are indeed challenging assignments well met.
For the uninitiated, the story, a sendup of upper-middle-class acquisitiveness, has goth Lydia, mourning over her mother’s death, moving into a Victorian country house with her father (Adam Dannheisser) and his girlfriend (Leslie Kritzer). The deceased previous owners, played by Kerry Butler and Rob McClure, return as house-proud ghosts who try to scare away the new occupants, a mission aided by Beetlejuice, who yearns for a magical reprise as a living (and thus, no longer invisible) being.
Kritzer has added a more human dimension to the needy, faddish Delia, filling the hole that is still not quite satisfyingly filled by Butler’s and McClure’s characters (who were played by Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin in the film). The broad, sitcommy exuberance imposed on their Barbara and Adam makes them an odd temperamental fit for their alliance with the morose Lydia. And it sucks comic energy away from the flaky specialness attaching to Delia. You could wish the warm bond between Barbara and Adam would be the catalytic lesson for the sometimes suicidal Lydia about how to fill her life with meaning. It feels like an opportunity squandered.
On the seriously plus side, two inferior songs have been cut from Act 2: “The Box,” a New Age lampoon for a guru character, Otho (Kelvin Moon Loh), and a number for a boy band in hell, “Everything Is Meh.” The latter is replaced in the now-stronger Netherworld sequence, where Lydia goes to find her mother, by a definite upgrade: Kritzer (doubling as a dead former Miss Argentina) leading the denizens of hell in the loopy “If I Knew Then What I Know Now.” Barbara and Adam have a refurbished song in Act 2, too. Other pluses: Caruso has gone from blond in Washington to black-haired in New York. (It sounds like a small thing, but in D.C., Caruso looked so un-Lydia-like she could have been a cousin of Marilyn’s in “The Munsters.”) And without so much shabby leering to execute, the sardonic bite of Brightman, the erstwhile star of Broadway’s “School of Rock,” is funnier.
Gone, too, is a moment that went beyond outrageous to tasteless: a bunch of Beetlejuice clones chasing a terrified Girl Scout through a neighborhood. “Beetlejuice” still aspires to that “The Book of Mormon” brand of shock-comedy; it’s just of a slightly more restrained variety. So now, there is still that cooked pig that springs to life in the “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” dinner scene lifted from the movie. It’s just that by some smart (and more amusing) recalculation, not every body part springs to life with it.
By Act 2, I was starting to battle back my memories of my dark “Beetlejuice” past and accept the chaotic grooves the show cultivates, along with the excellent contributions of the designers (David Korins on sets and William Ivey Long on costumes, and a resourceful team of puppet and special effects creators.) It will never be among my favorite musicals, but I bet there will be a healthy and less-encumbered cheering section for it in New York.
Beetlejuice, book by Scott Brown and Anthony King; music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect. Directed by Alex Timbers. Choreography, Connor Gallagher; sets, David Korins; costumes, William Ivey Long; lighting, Kenneth Posner; sound, Peter Hylenski; puppets, Michael Curry; special effects, Jeremy Chernick; magic and illusions, Michael Weber. About 2 hours 25 minutes. $59-$225. At Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway, New York. 212-239-6200. telecharge.com.