Starting this week, if you say “Beetlejuice” three times, you not only get an eyeful of the spooky, silly dark comedy that director Tim Burton produced for Michael Keaton and Wynona Ryder in 1988. You get an earful of the merrily mournful Broadway musical inspired by the hit film.
Composed by Eddie Perfect with Scott Brown and Anthony King, ‘Beetlejuice: The Musical‘ hits the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Academy of Music on May 30, and stars the talented Isabella Esler as Lydia, the young girl whose mother’s passing sets the motion of Beetlejuice racing forward in this rapidly paced musical.
No sooner than Esler graduated from the Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, California, the teen vocalist and actor began the process of starring in her first ever professional stage musical.
“It’s crazy sounding even to me that THAT is what happened,” said Esler, during a recent ‘Beetlejuice: The Musical tour’ stop. “I’ve always loved musical theater as a child, and participated in school musicals when I was 7 and 8 years old. So, yes, it has always been a thing for me.”
To go with Esler’s love of musical theater came the ardent support of her parents, a mother and father who recognized their daughter’s talents when Isabella was still in the crib.
“My parents told me that I used to try and sing along to the soundtrack of ‘Les Mis’ in the house, even though I didn’t know any of the words,” she said, laughing. “I tried my best.”
From there, Esler landed lead roles in several San Jose-area children’s theater productions. “My parents were great. They just kept allowing me to be in show after show. I never had a thing with stage fright… it was a fun feeling that I just kept doing. And as the years wore on, my parents realized I was serious about theater—acting as well as singing — is one of the most fun things in the world.”
Doing children’s theater and high school theater aided Esler’s development, and pushed her towards creating audition tapes for college theater submissions. That is, until she saw an open call for ‘Beetlejuice’. So, Esler sent her first-ever audition self-tape recording to NYC tour producers, with a twist—she sang ‘Dead Mom’ from ‘Beetlejuice’.
Talent, tenacity and luck all came together, fortuitously, as Esler came home from her summer job to find out that she had scored one of the leads in one of her favorite musicals.
“It was surreal to say the least. So weird,” she said.
Esler calls her character, Lydia, a “young, Goth-y teen trying to navigate everything new in her life,” a new home and a life without her mother. “She just wants to be understood, and she uses being clever and outsmarting people to her advantage,” said Esler. “Lydia always has new ideas – she’s very quick and very determined. But she is also very much of a kid at the same time. When you first see Lydia on stage, you’ll think “Goth” and “sad,” but really, she’s just a teenager trying to be heard.”
As a fan of ‘Beetlejuice’, Esler loved the “craziness” of the production, and how its multiple characters came together under the rubric of something (initially) sad for something ultimately celebratory.
“’Beetlejuice’ allowed me to really get invested in the action and the characters, right from the beginning – the witty humor, the costumes, the staging, along with all of its songs,” she said. “More than all that, though, I think that ‘Beetlejuice’ in poignant, and has heart-warming messages throughout rather than just be funny or go from song to song. Along with the joyous songs we sing, ‘Beetlejuice’ has some genuinely sad and emotional moments to it. I had a great feeling the first time that I ever saw it, and that translates to what I do on stage now.”
‘Beetlejuice’ is on stage at Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Academy of Music from May 30 to June 11. For information and tickets, visit kimmelculturalcampus.org