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Broadway Q&A: Alex Brightman of ‘Beetlejuice’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

“It’s like one of those Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis road comedies, except with a 17-year-old girl and a millennia-old demon.”

Alex Brightman was last seen on Broadway in his Tony-nominated performance as Dewey in School of Rock. This month, he returns to the Winter Garden Theatre to play the title role in Beetlejuice. When teenager Lydia Deetz has to deal with living in haunted house, the boisterous and effervescent demon Beetlejuice gets called in. He brings with him a whole lot of hullabaloo, plus the biggest sandworm on Broadway. Based on Tim Burton’s lovable movie, the ghostly musical is directed by Alex Timbers, has an original score by Eddie Perfect, a book by Scott Brown and Anthony King and choreography by Connor Gallagher. Brightman’s other Broadway credits include Matilda, Big Fish and Wicked. On TV, he has appeared in Documentary Now!, SMILF and Important Things. A prolific writer, his newest plays, We Left It Here and Everything Is Fine will both be presented this year in New York City. 

Alex Brightman and Sophia Anne Caruso star in ‘Beetlejuice’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Alex Brightman and Sophia Anne Caruso star in ‘Beetlejuice’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

When did you first learn about Beetlejuice: The Musical and the role? 
Alex Brightman
: I was sitting at home three-ish years ago and got an email late in the evening that said, “Can you make it tomorrow to this audition? They’re doing a workshop of Beetlejuice.” I said, “Sure,” and didn’t have a lot of time to study the material. I did as best as I could to study the material, came in and was very much myself. That is who they cast that day. I thought, “That was easy. This is how I would want to audition for every single show I ever do.” 

Then I worked hard from that moment until now. I worked my ass off to make it something special, and not make anybody regret the decision to cast me. Every actor is replaceable, and I am very aware of that. It’s nice that people get chosen for stuff. But I don’t ever think when I get cast, “I was the best one for the role.” I happen to be the right guy at the moment. 

What qualities does Beetlejuice have that you love? 
: What I love about this Beetlejuice, in particular, is that he is more human than you think. He is obsessed with the idea of being alive. So for a millennia, he has tried to get the human thing right. That is a fun dynamic to play – how humans relate to each other and react to things. And he couldn’t be more wrong, which is adorable. That is why he says things that are out of line and off-color. He has never known where the boundary line is, and has huge boundary issues. He is always in people’s faces, spitting on them without knowing it. He has never had lessons on courteousness. 

So he comes from a very genuine place. 
: For having zero heart, he has plenty. He truly has a heart, and just wants to be liked. Except he’s the loneliest person out there, because nobody for a millennia has seen him. He has been completely invisible. Then he meets Lydia, who has also been invisible in her own right, and she can see him. So it's this perfect mix of, “I can get what I want, but she is also my first friend in a bazillion years.” He is over the moon about it, and still has a plan to achieve, which involves screwing over his new friend he just made. That makes the show so compelling and fun and funny. 

Lydia and Beetlejuice have a great dynamic. 
: They need each other. What’s different about our musical from the movie is that this is like a buddy comedy. And a really fun one. It's like one of those Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis road comedies, except with a 17-year-old girl and a millennia-old demon.

Do you remember one of the first times you performed? 
: I did A Christmas Carol when I was eight years old. It was at this place called Children’s Musical Theater San Jose, where I performed upwards of 45 to 50 shows. I don’t remember being nervous. I’m sure I was, because I get nervous every time I’m on stage now. But I remember how great the cast was. It was the first time I had ever experienced cast bonding and cast encouragement. That has continued to keep me in theater – the family dynamic of “We got you, you are our family.” You go from family to family and lose people along the way, but when you are in a cast they really are the backbone. No one leads a show. There are lead roles, but no one truly leads a show. It's very super collaborative, and to lean into that is gorgeous. It's why I keep coming back to it. Because it's a nutty profession, but it keeps me alive. 

Beetlejuice is such a character. When the show ends how do you get back to Alex? 
: That’s a great question. Because when I go out the stage door, I can’t be a sort of jerk demon there roasting people. I’m so wired by the end of the show, as most actors are, that I do take my time. When you’re done with the show, nothing should be expected of you. It’s OK to keep people waiting if they’re willing to wait. I take a shower. I have to, because I’m covered in makeup, sweat and grossness. If I have people there, I don’t rush them away. I take them in, say “Hello,” and really, really pace myself through that stage door. Sometimes it takes like 40 minutes to get out of there. But if the people want to wait, after I get out of that stage door, I will make it worth their while. I am there for you. I’m not rushing anywhere. Then when I get home, it's really about getting myself tired. I watch movies I’ve already seen because the rhythm of it puts me to sleep.
For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in April 2019.




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