Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

National Tour
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Patrick's recent reviews of As You Like It and A Christmas Carol

The Ensemble
Photo by Matthew Murphy
December is usually the time for cheery, upbeat, joyous shows–like the annual Home for the Holidays concert by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus–or productions that reinforce the spirit of giving and generosity that surround the holidays–A Christmas Carol being the most traditional option. But in the words of the titular character in Beetlejuice, the musical based on the Tim Burton film whose touring production launched this week at the Golden Gate Theatre, "I'm a master of the art of tearing convention apart."

So if you're in the mood for something a little more goth this holiday season, the cast and creators of Beetlejuice have just the thing for you: a weirdly wonderful journey into a netherworld between life and death, where ghosts–both seasoned poltergeists and the newly dead–interact with the living in ways both haunting and hysterical.

After an opening funeral where we learn that goth teen Lydia (Nevada Riley on opening night, standing in for Isabella Esler, and doing a great job of it) has lost her dearly beloved mother, she and her father Charles (Jesse Sharp) move into a home recently vacated by the recently deceased Adam (Will Burton, who will put you in mind of "Saturday Night Live"'s Mikey Day, with his rubbery face and terrific comic chops) and Barbara (Britney Coleman). Well, not quite vacated. For, as newbie ghosts learning the rules of the afterlife, they decamp to the attic and plot how to scare the new occupants, which may soon include Delia (a marvelously wacky Kate Marilley), Charles's new ultra-woke, New Age-y girlfriend, out of the house before they can turn it into the post-modern model home for a new gated community Charles plans to develop.

To prosecute this ghoulish endeavor, Adam and Barbara are assisted by "bio-exorcist" Beetlejuice (the manic–in a good way–Justin Collette), resplendent in a wide-striped suit that implies his imprisonment between the worlds of the living and the dead. As Michael Keaton was in the movie, Collette is a force of undeniable chaos. His powers, however, are limited. "I'm invisible," he says, "Powerless. Like a gay Republican."

Despite his protestations, Beetlejuice commands our attention, in part from sheer volume and in part from his physical antics, and those he (and the other ghosts) inflict on the living beings. In one memorable scene (taken straight from the movie), the ghosts possess Charles, Delia, and two potential investors in Charles's real estate development, compelling them to perform the classic Harry Belafonte tune, "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)". Additional movement coordination is by the Bay Area's own Lorenzo Pisoni, who honed his talents in the Pickle Family Circus.

Though the main plot engine (one not present in the movie) of Lydia seeking a way to bring her dead mother back to life–or at least to reconnect with her–is too sentimental and out of tune with the wild irreverence of the rest of the show, it's easy enough to ignore and focus instead on the many visual gags, breaking of the fourth wall, and general mayhem. Careful viewers will likely pick up on many subtle (and not-so) cultural and theatrical references. You'll see nods to Hello, Dolly!, Wicked, Flashdance and even Company. There's also a terrific dance number (choreography by Connor Gallagher) featuring a group of the recently dead: a skydiver trailing his shredded parachute, members of a football team (bus plunge one assumes), a jockey, and others.

Though Beetlejuice runs nearly two-and-a-half hours, the show never seems to lag, thanks to Alex Timbers' excellent direction. Timbers keeps a popping pace, and it doesn't hurt to have a stunning set (by David Korins), arena-worthy lighting (Kenneth Posner), and dozens of fabulous costumes (by multiple Tony winner William Ivey Long).

While black comedy–this is a show about dead people, after all–may not be standard holiday fare, as Delia tells us at one point in Beetlejuice, "Depression is like an ugly sweater: OK at Christmas, but the rest of the year, you've got to put it away." So, now is a perfect time for not only ugly sweaters and depression, but also a very funny, wildly entertaining show about dead people playing havoc with the living.

Beetlejuice plays through December 31, 2022, at SHN's Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $56-$256, and are available by calling the box office at 888-746-1799 or by visiting For more information on the tour, visit