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'Beetlejuice' review: It doesn't conjure up the spirit of the movie

Rob McClure, Kerry Butler, Sophia Anne Caruso and

Rob McClure, Kerry Butler, Sophia Anne Caruso and Alex Brightman star in "Beetlejuice." Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

WHAT "Beetlejuice"

WHERE Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway

INFO From $69; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com

BOTTOM LINE Not every great movie works as a musical.

"Such a bold departure from the original source material," laments the familiar-looking guy in the tattered black-and-white striped suit. Consider yourself warned. The new musical at the Winter Garden Theatre is most likely not the "Beetlejuice" you expected.

This problematic adaptation of Tim Burton's 1988 cult movie hit doesn’t really know what to do with itself. In the title role, Alex Brightman gets more stage time than Michael Keaton's 18 minutes on screen, and with an abrasive, gravelly voice that’s one stop short of laryngitis, he knocks his socks off trying to sell the show. But the material, especially the far-from-memorable songs by Eddie Perfect, simply doesn't cut it. 

The book by Scott Brown and Anthony King follows the broad outline of the film. The recently deceased Barbara and Adam Maitland haunt their former country house, but neophytes at ghostly games, they don't have what it takes to scare away the new owner — New York real estate developer Charles Deetz, who moves in with his almost second wife, Delia, and Lydia, his Goth-obsessed teenager. Lydia and the Maitlands team up with the demonic Beetlejuice to get rid of the pesky couple. 

There are significant  departures from the film — some work, some don't (largely determined by your attachment to the original). Along the way, director Alex Timbers hits us with cheerleaders, a gospel choir, tap dancing delivery men and a Girl Scout with a heart arrhythmia. It's the theatrical equivalent of everything but the kitchen sink. 

The actors give it their all, but like Brightman, they are often guilty of overselling. Kerry Butler and Rob McClure have some sweet moments as the, let’s face it, boring Maitlands. And Leslie Kritzer will give you a few chuckles as the obnoxiously obsequious life coach Delia. If anything, the show belongs to Sophia Anne Caruso, whose beautifully sung Lydia, grieving for her dead mom, provides the lone meaningful moment.

The visuals are terrific, notably William Ivey Long's frumpy-to-fab costumes, Michael Curry's over-the-top puppets and David Korins' eye-popping set that morphs from graveyard to rooftop to a living room that, thanks to Peter Nigrini's animated projections, is redecorated three times. 

But the show only comes alive when it reverts to the Harry Belafonte songs everyone remembers from the film — the possessed dinner party guests avoiding marauding shrimp and bellowing "Day-O" at the top of their lungs and Lydia singing "Shake, Señora" at the end. And therein lies the inherent risk always associated with screen-to-stage musicals. Someone, maybe many people, are going to come along and say you'd be better off staying home and watching the movie. 

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