The new Broadway musical comedy Beetlejuice is surprising audiences with its distinct adaptation of the Tim Burton movie that has become a beloved cult classic. (Read our review.) With a book by Scott Brown and music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect, and directed by Alex Timbers, it’s a wild ride that is both naughty and nice in unexpected ways. For those who haven’t experienced this macabre production, we have an exclusive first listen to one of the standout songs, “Say My Name,” which Perfect describes as a “battle of wits.” It’s a killer tune for Alex Brightman, who plays Beetlejuice (and was last seen on the same stage when School of Rock was packing the house) — and it’s certainly a rollicking good time.
Ghostlight Records and Warner Records have set the pre-order of the Broadway cast album of Beetlejuice for Friday, May 31st (ahead of the album’s official digital release on Friday, June 7th). We caught up with Perfect to see what went into adapting and developing the songs for this iconic character as well as his inspiration for the eclectic styles of music that he’s used.
Taking on such an iconic character as Beetlejuice, were you ever intimidated by putting lyrics in this off-kilter dude’s mouth to sing?
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t intimidating taking a globally revered character that has been in the collective consciousness for thirty-one years and suddenly make him sing. But I quite enjoy a challenge. Beetlejuice was already surprising and dark on the page by the time I pitched on the show, and I knew instinctively that I couldn’t write any song for this character that started in the one genre and stayed there all the way through. I’m a big fan of fusing styles, switching up feels and grooves, incorporating multiple genres inside the one piece of music — and I looked to bands like Mr. Bungle and Secret Chief Three for inspiration. But exactly how Beetlejuice would sing was something I experimented with a lot. In my demos I tried to find a blend between the gravel and the loose expression while also holding down melody. The moments where Beetlejuice is singing sweetly are my favorite. That’s pure Tom Waits “Kentucky Avenue.”
Was there any collaboration with Alex Brightman? Had you seen Alex in School of Rock or knew what he was capable of?
I didn’t know Alex Brightman before he worked together on Beetlejuice- not for any other reason than that I live on the other side of the planet. He was a perfect match from the first moment. I mean, it’s insane how good he is. How fast. I wrote a reprise of “Dead Mom” for him called “Dead Bird” (since cut) and he put it into the run of the show instantly. He’s so funny and inventive and yes, the voice. It’s easy to forget just what a terrific singer he is, because he makes the grit and the gravel of it sound so easy.
There’s such a barrage of lyrics in the songs — witty, funny, weird, raunchy — how did you channel that into the lyrics for “Say My Name”? I’m assuming you didn’t just get really stoned and let your freak flag fly… Or maybe you did?
Some songs came quickly and easily for Beetlejuice, but this one didn’t. We all know Beetlejuice wants someone to say his name three times, so it was interesting to me to find a way for Lydia to toy with him by saying it twice and then switching it up with the third. I went through so many of those. There was a whole “to be or not to be” idea that was cut. I tend to start with a groove that suits the temperature of the scene. In this case, it’s a loping, swung, Punjabi groove that is charm-mode Beetlejuice — and I build from there, keep turning up the heat as the confrontation grows.
It was also fun to have Lydia’s groove come in faster and straighter than Beetlejuice’s; it’s a musical way of showing that Lydia’s mind is not only sharp, her brain moves faster than his. I was also inspired by the notion of Lydia and Beetlejuice both being invisible. Sure, Lydia’s invisibility is metaphoric, but the fact that nobody sees either of them is a powerful connection. How do you play with that connection, create an accord, but not have Lydia just suddenly agree to work with this horrible, sleazy, lecherous demon? She needs to outsmart him. So the name game is not just about Beetlejuice, it’s about using Beetlejuice’s knowledge of possession to force her father to finally see her. To see her grief, her loss and to celebrate her strangeness. And I was only stoned some of the time!
Being from Melbourne, were you able to bring any sort of Australian sensibility, humor or perspective to play in the music and lyrics? Or is that just a stupid question to begin with?
No, that’s not a stupid question at all. In fact, I think you’re the first person to ever ask me about what might be in my cultural background that’s wormed its way into the score. I do think there’s an Australian sensibility. We tend to have a “cut the shit” attitude. There’s not a huge amount of tolerance for anyone blowing smoke up anyone’s proverbial in Australia. We tend to maintain a sense of irreverence in all things, and often to our detriment. We have a disdain for authority, we generally despise pretense. I think there’s a lot of that attitude in Beetlejuice: “Oh, you think your perfect house and your amazing career and your lofty plans are gonna last forever? Boom. You’re dead!”
The most exciting comedy for me as an audience member is dangerous comedy. It’s fun to make people a little bit afraid of a song, because as far as I’m aware a song has never actually killed anyone. I crossed many, many lines of good taste during the development of Beetlejuice (behind firmly closed doors) and I think that that’s important — you don’t know where the line is until you cross it, and you it’s much easier to pull back than it is to suddenly “add danger.”
On a personal level, I find the notion that you and I and everyone we know will eventually die to be a comforting thought. Rich or poor, famous or unknown, powerful or powerless, weak or strong, it doesn’t matter. Death comes to us all. It’s the great equalizer, actually. I think remember the inevitability of death is something that allows for a greater appreciation of living, and it also helps to navigate stressful social situations, large gala events, big performances and important meetings. “Ah well, we’re all gonna die.” I find that calming. Whether that’s Australian or not, I don’t know.
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