Alex Brightman says he's tired, but you’d never know. It’s a bright Sunday afternoon on his day off from rehearsals and previews of Beetlejuice, the high-energy musical adaptation of the 1988 film, and the Tony nominee, who has arrived early to his photo shoot, is cracking jokes. Gone are Beetlejuice’s pale makeup, big hair, and iconic striped suit. Instead, it’s just an actor in a black T-shirt and relaxed jeans, with the gleam of a man who wants to simultaneously put a room at ease and keep it on its toes.
But then again, that’s what Brightman has been doing since joining Beetlejuice three years ago—creating a character who walks a line between grotesque, rude, and menancing and charming. It takes craft, it takes showmanship, and it takes finding the honesty within the chaos. And Brightman is up for the challenge.
Playbill sat down with actor to discuss creating his own Beetlejuice, finding the heart within a demon, and more.
You’re fresh off a two-show day in this massive, kinetic show. You’re dancing, you’re belting, you’re doing magic tricks. As an actor, how do you take the spectacle on the page and begin to make real?
I’m an outside-in actor. All the exterior stuff comes first for me. What color is his hair? How long is his hair? Does he have a stutter? How low is his voice? What does he find funny and how does he laugh? The black nails. His posture. He doesn’t have social graces so why would his body be anything that feels postured. He’s a millennia old, he’s been dead forever. Everything about him is falling apart because he is dead. His vocal chords are completely gone and his throat is collapsing on itself and so are his legs half the time.
After reading a script, I like to take references from other things. There’s a little bit of the walk from Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow [in The Wizard of Oz]. I’m always fixing myself, which I think is ludicrous because he looks terrible — that’s a little bit of [stand up comedian] Rodney Dangerfield, who always plays with his tie.
It took a little bit [of time] but once that’s all in place, the rest of it feels very easy to me. Because I just get to live. I put on Beetlejuice and then it happens naturally.
You’ve been building your Beetlejuice through workshops, the D.C. production, and now. What are you eager to explore for Broadway, now that you've created the infrastructure of the character?
The challenge between D.C. and New York is that we wanted the show to be as interesting as a classic musical, deep and human, but with the source material that is absolutely off-the-walls bonkers with a leading character that is a monster. After D.C., we learned to soften him up a little bit. Because he’s a monster. He is a totally unabashed, degenerate-adjacent, filthy, vile guy. He doesn’t know where the line is because he’s never had a line. So the fact that he can be nice doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s a monster.
You continually break the fourth wall. You never know how an audience is going to react. What is it like acting alongside that variable?
[Director] Alex Timbers and I had a big conversation about this: what do the fourth wall breaks mean? I think the audience is aware I’m just an actor onstage. It’s this sort of meta thing where [Beetlejuice] is even aware that he’s in a musical so when he’s talking to the audience, he’s his real self. You’re supposed to be, as an audience, peeking in on something. If all of a sudden, the audience is aware that I’m also peeking back at you, it creates this very strange symbiotic energy between me and the audience, which I think is paying off huge dividends.
With a show like Beetlejuice, the audience may be drawn to it because of the dark humor that they know from the movie but this production also has so much heart in it. How is it tapping into both sides of the spectacle?
The show has these great, deep, heartfelt moments. It’s wonderful, especially for a character that I didn’t think would get to have those moments. We get the demon from hell that spills out expletives left and right, but we also get the guy who’s just lonely, which I think is important. He’s not just this degenerate. He’s lonely. He’s legitimately never been seen, ever, and that’s heartbreaking. He really could ruin a lot of things, but he wants people to like him which I think is so relatable on a human level. Which I think speaks to the breaking the fourth wall again. He’s like “You’re with me, right?”
So you all have built this unique, spectacle of a show for Broadway from this film that people already know. How was it for you to make it your own while paying homage to the original source material?
I think a good adaptation for a show and character is to not just do the thing in a different medium. You need to have a take. You need to have a point of view. What we try to do is take all the ingredients that were there, our writers added a lot of other ingredients, and I got to read those ingredients and slap them on to me. And for me [as an actor], I go, “OK, what would I do if I have never been seen before?” And I can relate to that. That doesn’t just mean being invisible. I have had plenty of moments where I have felt not seen. I think that’s a very big universal quality that people can latch on it.
The stealthy think that we are doing is we are doing this big comedy show that does harken back to the movie but under the current, there is this heart. And our show really leans into that heart. We are bringing acid to Broadway: real hard truths, really funny comedy, really big emotion in an unexpected way. I would not gush this much over something I’m in usually but [even if I weren’t involved], it’s something I would be very happy to know was on Broadway!
Go Inside Playbill's Feature Photo Shoot with Brightman below: