Turn on the Juice and See What Shakes Loose

Perfectly timed, Great American Playhouse pays tribute to Tim Burton's Beetlejuice

So it's that time of year, and we are, from every direction, being reminded that ghouls and ghosts and hauntings are pretty much an everyday part of our lives. And that, oddly, some of these really scary things can be soothed, at least temporarily, by candy.

A long time ago (1988), Tim Burton gave us a funny-weird-scary vision of folks straddling the life/death line. The movie is, of course, "Beetlejuice," and for a lot of us, it was our first full dose of the amazing Burton. This guy clearly thinks not only outside the box; he pretty much throws the box on the bonfire.

The Great American Playhouse up in Oro Valley, just about a year old now, has developed a contribution to the Season of Woo-Woo called "Beetle-Juiced," which trades, as one might expect, on our fond memories of Burton's movie, and particularly of Michael Keaton's amazing creation of the title character.

There's a danger in this, because of people's expectations, for one thing; and if you're tampering with something rather iconic, something which offers such quirky creative wonders, you need to bring a top-notch and unique spin to your version.

Sean MacArthur's script relies on fun from puns as well as musical interludes for this spin, and although there are plenty of funny moments, and the songs are pleasing enough, there's just not enough to make the show really shine with it's own creepy/funny light.

The story's set-up is very much like that of the movie. A young couple, Roger (Brian Paradis) and Susan (Jennifer Ackerley Lawrence) are killed in a car accident, but they still seem to be very much alive—to themselves and to us—living in their very homey home. Years pass, undetected by the couple, of course, and a family buys and moves into the home, not realizing that it also houses the ghost couple. We learn quickly that father Mr. Fairmont (Jesus Limon) is a silly—but very rich—guy, and that his wife Cordelia (Amy DeHaven) is an evil and overbearing woman plotting to get her hands on her husband's fortune. Both families have to learn to negotiate the worlds of the living as it intersects with the worlds of the dead, and this strange guy—a freelance bio-exorcist—Beetlejuice (McArthur) helps in the negotiation.

Lay aside any expectations that GAP's product brings us the funky but charming strangeness of the movie. For one thing there were special effects at the heart of the movie's weirdness that, obviously, are not going to be present here. We wouldn't expect that. But there are really not any efforts to create—well, something—that might evoke the delight of the movie's production elements, bringing us some enjoyment perhaps even because of their lameness. There's not a strong statement of the wonderfully creative opportunities inherent in theater, particularly this style of theater where subtleties are absent and we boo the bad guys and cheer the good.

The post-show olio is a fun little romp called "Fractured Fairy Tales," which really is more a romp through Disney's musical versions of the tales. There's a pretty durn funny "Under the Sea" from "The Little Mermaid," and a quite impressive tap number by the whole cast for "Be Our Guest" from "Beauty and the Beast." And then there's the anthem from "Frozen," which involves a venture into the audience, collecting little girls who willingly offer their sweet voices for a moment in the spotlight.

There's a high quality of talent here, even if the show is uneven. So if you're up for a night (or afternoon) of sometimes stumbling silliness, hie thee to Oro Valley. It may not be the best we've seen from the group, but there's still plenty of good natured fun from some good-natured performers.

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