Washington’s resurgence as a top-of-the-line test kitchen for Broadway musicals was reaffirmed Wednesday, as producers announced a musical stage version of the ghoul-filled 1988 comedy “Beetlejuice” would have its world premiere in October at the District’s National Theatre, where “Mean Girls” tried out last fall.
The show has a score by Australian composer and satirist Eddie Perfect and will be staged by Alex Timbers, the inventive director responsible for the off-Broadway hit “Here Lies Love” and such Broadway projects as “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Rocky.” Perfect also has written the songs for a musical adaptation of “King Kong” that is envisioned for a Broadway run. The “Beetlejuice” book is by Scott Brown, a former theater critic for New York magazine, and comedy writer Anthony King.
“I love the movie and I grew up with it,” Timbers said of the film that cemented the reputation of filmmaker Tim Burton, a big-screen maestro of what Timbers called “edgy subversiveness.” “This was his second feature and the first where you see his visual imprint. I was 10 when it came out. For me this is exciting, and a big responsibility, too.”
“Beetlejuice” starred, among others, Winona Ryder as a teenager moving into a haunted house with her yuppie parents, who recruit a mischievous spirit played by Michael Keaton to rid the home of the ghosts of its previous owners. (Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones played the parents; Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin were the ghosts.) The movie, which over the years has developed a cult following, was made for about $15 million and took in about $74 million at the domestic box office.
Choosing Washington as the site of “Beetlejuice’s” pre-Broadway engagement follows an accelerating trend in the theater business, one that is proving to be a boon for the National, where major shows including “If/Then” and “Mean Girls” — which has its official Broadway opening next month — have tried out in recent years. The Broadway hit “Come From Away” had a crucial stop at Ford’s Theatre on the way to New York, and last year’s Tony winner “Dear Evan Hansen” began its life at Arena Stage in the summer of 2015. This summer, Arena will host another musical with Broadway aspirations, a stage version of the 1993 film comedy “Dave,” directed by Tina Landau (“SpongeBob SquarePants, the Broadway Musical”) and featuring Broadway musical comedy actor Drew Gehling (“Waitress”) in the title role.
Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures is producing both “Dave” and “Beetlejuice”; its partner in the latter is Langley Park Productions. Although the casting of the 20 or so “Beetlejuice” actors has yet to be finalized, the producers have announced other members of the creative team. They include choreographer Connor Gallagher and Broadway veterans on costumes (William Ivey Long), lighting (Kenneth Posner), sets (David Korins), sound (Peter Hylenski), projections (Peter Nigrini), puppets (Michael Curry), illusions (Michael Weber) and special effects (Jeremy Chernick).
Timbers said channeling the “outrageous tone” is important in translating “Beetlejuice” to the stage, as is getting right the aesthetic Burton brought to the movie. “It has to be technically sophisticated,” he said, “but it wants to have a homemade, DIY quality, too — that feels as if made by an artist.”