Director Alex Timbers and designer David Korins are old hands at riffing on beloved pop culture characters for Broadway. They got their toes wet with The Pee-wee Herman Show, and now it’s Beetlejuice, currently at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre. But the property wasn’t necessarily the draw.
“I signed on for Alex Timbers,” Korins says the day before rehearsals begin, tossing a grin at Timbers. “Isn’t that so sweet?”
The longtime collaborators are as quick to boast of one another’s accomplishments as they are to tease. That level of familiarity is part of the reason why Timbers brought Korins on board at the start. Designers aren’t typically involved so early in the process, but Timbers and the show’s writers (Scott Brown and Anthony King co-wrote the book; Eddie Perfect the score) knew that the show would need a killer set. And Korins delivers.
“One of the things that was really important was this house and the transformational quality of it,” Timbers says. So Korins’ design encompasses three distinct iterations of the Maitlands’ home as their interactions with rogue demon Beetlejuice and the newly arrived Deetz family become increasingly frightening, until everything the audience has assumed about the set has been turned inside out (sometimes literally).
“It felt exciting to be staring at this house that has integrity to it—and then something popped out of it or through it,” Korins says. “It felt exciting to be able to stare at a thing and not quite work out how it transforms.”
Korins also channels the original film’s director as he contributes a Tim Burton–esque design to new aspects of the show, including scenes in locations not part of the film. Timbers correctly points out that the new scenes look just as much like the Burton universe as the original material.
“That’s what felt exciting about all these things,” he says. “And that, to me, makes it a creative endeavor rather than just [doing] the movie script.”
“It’s really interesting to take an intellectual property that people know and love,” Korins says. “I mean, people show up to the theatre dressed in costume.”
Both Timbers and Korins are very aware of the challenge they’ve accepted in bringing a beloved movie to the stage and shaping and molding it to fit the medium.
“There’s a huge responsibility to take something that you could cut away, jump cut, cross-fade, all that, and make it work eight times a week and also make it ring true,” Timbers adds. “We have to convince people that all the different elements and pieces that they’re seeing are part of the Burton vernacular and then filtered through our own artistic sensibility. It’s tricky to do that.”
And so the ghost with the most gets a new lease on life.