Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

National Tour
Review by Scott Cain | Season Schedule

Isabella Esler
Photo by Matthew Murphy
In recent years, Broadway has seen many musicals adapted from famous films from the 1980s and 1990s. Cincinnati just hosted Mrs. Doubtfire, and this season in New York will see new stage versions of The Outsiders and Back to the Future. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that one of the biggest movies of the 1980s, Beetlejuice, likewise became a musical. Currently playing at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati, the national tour of the show boasts a talented cast, eye-catching design elements, and a well-suited score and story.

Beetlejuice started performances on Broadway in 2019 following a tryout in Washington DC the previous year. Like the beloved 1988 film of the same name, the show follows a recently deceased couple trying to scare the new inhabitants of their former home. They get assistance from a devious demon who is becomes powerful if a living human says his name three times. Lydia, one of the new inhabitants of the home, is a teenager dealing with her mother's death and her emotionally distant father, and she can somehow see all of the ghosts.

Beetlejuice has a book by Scott Brown and Anthony King. The storytelling is a mixed bag. Far too often, it relies on sophomoric (though funny) one-liners, raunchy sight-gags, and the nostalgia that fans of the movie (and that's a considerable number) will feel when seeing re-creations of their favorite scenes. However, there's also more heart in the stage version than the film, thanks to emotional connections and feelings conveyed through song, which wouldn't feel as organic as movie dialogue. There are a few book changes from Broadway due to technical limitations on tour, including the method by which the Maitlands meet their demise.

The score by Australian singer/actor/songwriter Eddie Perfect (Broadway's King Kong) isn't a particular noteworthy one. There are a few memorable and quite effective songs, including Lydia's defiant "Dead Mom," Beetlejuice's playful "Say My Name" (which features clever wordplay), and Miss Argentina's "What I Know Now." The lyrics are fast paced, and often humorous (and sometimes vulgar), but the music doesn't contain much variation or punch. The score overall isn't one that makes a big impression upon initial hearing, and the songs are secondary to the story and visuals of the piece. The musical does wisely incorporate both "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" and "Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora)" from the film.

On opening night in Cincinnati, Beetlejuice had four understudies in lead or supporting roles. Matthew Michael Janisse (understudy for Justin Collette) is steady and confident as the crude and chaotic poltergeist Beetlejuice, shows off clear vocals and strong stage presence, and improvises some hilarious audience interactions. Isabella Esler is a recent high school graduate, but you'd never know it, as she displays the skill of a seasoned vet. As Lydia, she delivers passionate singing and a multi-dimensional portrayal of the young protagonist who is the foundation of the musical. Megan McGinnis, as Barbara, and Ryan Breslin (understudy for Will Burton), as Adam, are funny, tender, and endearing playing the newly deceased couple who befriend Lydia.

Jesse Sharpe, as Lydia's father Charles, and Sarah Litzsinger, as Lydia's life coach Delia, are game for the kooky antics of their roles and also supply just enough of the parental kindness required as well. Lexie Dorsett Sharpe (understudy for Kris Roberts), as Maxine Dean/Juno, is a barrel of fun in two cameo roles, and Larkin Reilly (understudy for Hillary Porter), as Miss Argentina, shows off impressive vocals and dancing in "What I Know Now," the introduction to the Netherworld. Both Ryan Breslin and Lexie Dorsett Sharpe are alumni of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). The ensemble members all provide multi-faceted performances.

Director Alex Timbers (Here Lies Love, Moulin Rouge!) does an effective job balancing the crass and heartfelt elements of the story, and certainly provides fan service to the many audience members who ardently revere the film. Choreographer Connor Gallagher supplies apt dances where suitable, including an acrobatic and athletic "That Beautiful Sound" toward the top of Act II. Andy Grobengieser leads a versatile 10-piece orchestra.

The scenic design by David Korins is aptly dark, detailed and fun, and it incorporates Peter Nigrini's spooky projections well. The sets re-create many of the eye-popping visuals from the film, as do the costumes by William Ivey Long (which also include some fun new elements). The lighting by Kenneth Posner is varied and essential to the execution of the storytelling.

The numerous fans of the Beetlejuice movie (and many were decked out in film-inspired outfits on opening night) will certainly love lots about this musical. But, while this tour boasts a very talented cast, the show isn't quite up to the standard of many other Broadway musicals due to a score which is always adequate, yet rarely excellent.

Beetlejuice runs through January 28, 2024, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please call 513-621-2787 or visit For more information on the tour, visit