Becoming the Ghost with the Most: Alex Brightman on Playing ‘Beetlejuice’ on Broadway

What's it like to play the iconic Beetlejuice? We talked to Alex Brightman to find out.

Beetlejuice

Alex Brightman is an actor, singer, and two-time Tony Award Nominated Actor. He was nominated for his roles on Broadway as Dewey Finn in the musical adaptation of School of Rock and as the title character in Beetlejuice the Musical. After shuttering due to COVID, Beetlejuice is back on Broadway. We sat down with Alex to catch up on what the experience was like as well as how he created his take on the iconic & beloved character of Beetlejuice

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Dread Central: Alex Brightman, good to see you, sir. How’s it going?

Alex Brightman: It’s a pleasure to see you, too. I’m good. How are you?

DC: I’m doing good, doing really good. First of all, congratulations on Beetlejuice The Musical being back on Broadway, finally!

AB: Yes!

DC: I saw it twice during its original run and was heartbroken when it went off Broadway, but I am just elated that it’s back. It’s some of the most fun that I’ve had on Broadway, and I’ve had plenty of fun on Broadway. But, there was something very special about this show.

AB: Very nice. By the way, you were heartbroken?

DC: Yeah! I can’t imagine what you were feeling.

AB: We felt it all together. Trust me. We haven’t even done a full eight shows yet, so it’s still so fresh and so new. It’s so much fun, and I’m also two years older and feeling that completely.

DC: For those who don’t know, what ended up happening? How did the show go away and then spectacularly come back? Was it COVID-related?

AB: It was all COVID related. Our show wasn’t slated to close. This meteoric thing was happening with the show. It started out really slow when we first opened, I mean, truly to a point where we weren’t sure we were going to run. Then, TikTok kind of saved our show, to be quite honest.

But, people really took to our show on there because it really does speak to creative outcasts and creative misfits. I’m certainly one of those. I think every actor can sort of find a way to resonate with the sort of misfit thing. We found our audience there, and the word of mouth there spread like crazy. After about two months, you couldn’t get a ticket to our show.

It became this really great thing. Then, COVID happened, and all of Broadway shut down, so we were part of all of Broadway.

DC: Well, that’s awesome. Congratulations. I can’t wait to come see you for a third time.

AB: That’s what we call doing ‘The Beetlejuice.’

DC: Oh, that’s right, three times!

AB: Yeah!

DC: I’m due for my third. I feel like one of the wonderful things about the show is that it’s the next best thing to a Beetlejuice sequel, if not better; because it’s not a sequel, it’s not a remake. I feel that it would be difficult to do either one of those things, but taking it to a completely new platform, re-imagining it on a Broadway stage where you add music. It just breathes new life into this property that’s beloved to a lot of people, myself included. For that reason, it’s this sort of spectacular outgrowth of the original.

AB: My definition of a good adaptation is something that should have a point of view and a take. It shouldn’t just be the movie on stage or the book on stage because if it’s that, then why don’t you just go watch the movie? But, having a point of view that really does reflect the world around you, I think, really makes a cool adaptation.

What the writer said, actually, which I really, really echo is that I think this version of Beetlejuice The Musical is like somebody’s greatest fan fiction of the movie. It is sort of a companion piece, really, to the movie and to the cartoon, truly. It fits in with the world while not blending in with the world. It has this third sign of the cross thing where it’s the holy spirit of the three, no pun intended.

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DC: Now, speaking of the cartoon… I was just watching it the other day. I’m a super fan.

AB: It’s great. I’ve been saying for years now… I’ve been in the show for that long, too, for four years, at this point. They got to bring it back and have me voice it.

DC: Oh, that would be awesome!

AB: I’ve done it now. I’ve voiced Beetlejuice in…

DC: Teen Titans, right?

AB: Yes. That’s right. I’m ready to go. The voice is still here if anyone’s listening.

DC: Oh, man. That would be great. I can totally see that on Cartoon Network… I grew up on this cartoon, and it was the perfect gateway horror for me.

AB: Same.

DC: What was your relationship like with the movie growing up?

AB: I was a Tim Burton fan from the jump. It’s not my favorite Tim Burton movie, but it’s one of those movies that if it’s on television, no matter where it’s at in the movie, you just stick around.

I also grew up with a family that was typically a little darker, drier, and funny. It wasn’t off-limits when I was a kid, so I got to watch it, and, I guess, be corrupted by it at a young age. I loved it. I loved all the things. I really loved the style, and I like that it’s scary. I appreciate that something that can be funny can be equally as menacing. I like when things do that. I like when certain genres get bent a little like that. It’s the Tim Burton genre. I’m a big fan of anybody that can pave their own way, and that movie’s a really good example of it.

DC: It’s such an anomaly in so many ways. I feel like I miss the time when there were movies that were PG-13, that kids could kind of see, but they’re a little too much for kids. They kind of pushed you as a kid. You see it. There are some scary elements to it, and it pushes you right to your boundary.

AB: You get one really well-placed F-word.

DC: Well you mentioned how Beetlejuice corrupted you. It certainly corrupted me. I remember being in the first grade… By then I’d seen the movie, I know it front to back, and I had a little Lego character that I was pretending was Beetlejuice. In Legos, I recreated the whole crypt scene in school. And I took the little Lego figure that was Beetlejuice, and I went, “Nice fucking model,” in front of the whole class.

AB: Yep.

DC: I had to sit in the bathroom for about 45 minutes because that was ‘bathroom talk.’ My first ‘fuck,’ came from Beetlejuice.

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DC: So I think one of the things I really enjoyed about your performance is you’re not doing a Michael Keaton impression at all, but it still really feels like the character.

AB: Oh, good.

DC: Can you talk about how you approached embodying and performing this character that’s so iconic and indelible in the minds of so many people?

AB: I felt the best way to do it is to not attempt an impression because then the audience would just be looking for it or grading me on the impression. I just was interested in the idea of what a demon that’s been alive or been dead for millennia and been around… Forgetting that it’s Beetlejuice, what that would be?

If it was me, what are my likes and dislikes? What would I miss if I wasn’t a part of life that I’d want to be a part of. Then, with the voice, it was interesting because I knew that the voice had to sound monstrous. But, for me, my way into it was always physical. I just came up with the idea that if he’s been that dead for that long, clearly something is eroding, and his vocal chords, at this point, are probably cobwebs.

I went from that kind of angle of just doing that. Then, the one difference that I think really, really, really sets it apart is that my Beetlejuice is worried about not being charming. Michael Keaton’s, to his credit, because it’s outstanding, is much more that fratty, predatory, really, really, really invasive person. The reasoning for it is because he’s an asshole. That’s his thing.

My reason for having no boundaries is that I’ve never learned them. I’m just like a little kid, an arrested development kind of demon rather than one that knows how to mess with people and uses it. He doesn’t realize it. People have said, it takes them six-eighths of the show to remember that I’m the bad guy because people are extremely charmed by what we’re doing, so that’s the best compliment I can get.

DC: That’s really great. It’s crazy to think that Tim Burton originally wanted Sammy Davis Jr. to play Beetlejuice.

AB: I know, how great would that be to watch? I mean, because there probably would be something to my Beetlejuice in that, something that is charming and showman. There’s something about that I would’ve loved to see.

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DC: You mentioned Beetlejuice is not your favorite Tim Burton movie. Can I guess your favorite one? I have a feeling it might be mine. Edward Scissorhands?

AB: Yeah.

DC: I can’t get through that movie without completely disassembling. I have to watch it alone. It’s that bad.

AB: Oh, I’m with you. Anyone that has had moments of feeling unseen or weird or feeling like the other, there’s nothing worse than that. Then, there’s nothing better than somebody seeing you for who you are. That is my genre completely. That’s why I love that movie. There will be no other Tim Burton movie that will ever come close for me.

DC: No, it’s perfection. I mean, having seen Beetlejuice The Musical, I can’t help but think, about what else would make a good musical? The first thing that occurred to me was Ghostbusters. That would be insane if it had the same treatment as this, ideally, all the same people involved.

AB: I mean, the way technology is going for stage stuff and how amazingly complex that can be with screens and LEDs and projection. I mean, they’re doing Back to the Future in the West End, so maybe one day.

DC: No, it would be pretty cool. Edward Scissorhands would be interesting, too.

AB: I don’t know if you know this. Edward Scissorhands is actually being made into a ballet.

DC: What?

AB: Matthew Bourne, I believe, is the choreographer, and you can look this up. He did a ballet version of Edward Scissorhands, which actually kind of makes a ton of sense.

I saw some footage of, and I think it is available to see on a YouTube idea, but it’s gorgeous and it makes a lot of sense because he doesn’t talk a ton. There is something kind of beautiful about that.

DC: No, that sounds amazing. What else are you working on these days?

AB: I have been a writer for a very long time and been working on a lot of stuff. One of the things I’m developing is about nightmares. I’ve always been fascinated with nightmares because I have them all the time. But, I’ve always been very fascinated with the most common ones because I think that’s interesting. In the world, we all speak different languages, but somehow we all have the top 10 same nightmares, falling, being chased, spiders. We’re all sort of afraid of something in a top 10.

I took that, and am now developing a 10-part anthology, all one-offs, sort of like Black Mirror, that is based on the top 10 nightmares that have been logged. But, taking them in a way to that you wouldn’t expect. It’s not just a story about spiders. It’s in a way that you wouldn’t even know where the spider would be in this story until the end of it, right. I’m developing that. It’s currently called Ten Days of Night.

And I’ve been a part of this cartoon called Hell of a Boss, which came completely out of the Beetlejuice of it all. They came to see Beetlejuice, heard my voice, and said, “We want that voice on this character.” Then was lucky enough to be on a new cartoon coming out on Netflix in June called Dead End: Paranormal Park which will be on Netflix in June, and there are two seasons of that as well. Just sort of trying to be as much of a renaissance, multi-hyphenate as I possibly can, really.

DC: That’s awesome. Really, really cool.

AB: And walking my dog whenever I get a chance.

DC: Alex, this was a whole lot of fun and real pleasure. Thank you.

AB: I really appreciate it.

DC: Cannot wait to come back for my third viewing so I can complete the Beetlejuice trilogy. Huge congratulations. I really love the show. I urge anybody reading, if you’re in New York, come see it. If you’re not in New York, fly out and see it. It is very well worth it, and a whole bunch of fun. One of the most wonderful tributes to the iconic legacy of Beetlejuice that we all know and love. Alex, thank you.

AB: That’s very, very nice. Thank you. Thank you very much.

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