Beetlejuice Tony Nominee Alex Brightman on Finding His 'Own Version' of the Iconic Character
"I've been wanting to do this kind of stuff since I was dancing on my fireplace when was eight years old," says Beetlejuice star Alex Brightman
There’s arguably no performer working harder on Broadway at the moment than Alex Brightman, who’s currently headlining Beetlejuice as the demon himself.
Tony-nominated for his wildly energetic and madcap performance (the show is up for a total of eight Tonys at Sunday’s awards show), Brightman (School of Rock) takes over the iconic part from Michael Keaton, who originated the role in Tim Burton’s 1988 cult classic.
Brightman spoke with PEOPLE about putting his own spin on the material and how he maintains his voice show after show.
How do you keep the energy up as Beetlejuice? The guy is non-stop manic for two-plus hours!
I’ve been wanting to do this kind of stuff since I was dancing on my fireplace when was eight years old. So I get to do it now, and people look up to me, which is incredible in the first place. So I can’t not have that energy, because there are 1,500 people in there looking to have a good time, and it’s my job to do it. I’ve wanted it to be my job for so long, so to have it now, is not to waste it.
And making sure to not destroy your voice — how do you maintain it over every performance? He has a raspy-sounding, harsh voice unlike yours.
I will say the one word that keeps a Broadway performer at this kind of level in check is just — maintenance. When you get a show, you think, “Oh, okay, good, now, I can just do the show.” But there’s so much more maintenance that comes along with keeping a show fresh, keeping yourself healthy, keeping yourself not broken. So for this in particular, the voice is very distinct and totally something that sounds dangerous. But over the course of about a year, about three years ago, I found the voice that I wanted to use, a type of voice that I thought was unique to my portrayal of Beetlejuice, that was a send up of the movie for sure and of the cartoon, but I wanted to do my own different thing.
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And once I found the voice, me and a vocal coach, and a vocal pathologist, and an ear nose and throat doctor… we all worked together to find a way to make it maintainable and sustainable, so that what you’re hearing onstage sounds like I’m ruining my voice, but in turn, I’m actually taking the brunt off of my vocal chords.
You’ve now tackled two roles on Broadway that were originated in Hollywood by big name actors. How do you make them your own?
I’m not necessarily drawn to the idea of trying to recreate or reimagine something like that, although I found a deep love in it when I did it for School of Rock. I didn’t realize how much fun I would have trying to create my own thing. I love creating from the ground up. I never had tried it before with the source material. So the misconception is that it’s easier, because you have something to work off of. But it is so the opposite. You have such expectations to live up to, that I think that to try, and do an impression would be a disservice to the adaptation. So rather than that, take the source material as it is, respect it, but then try as hard as you can to create something else.
And I think that with Beetlejuice and … I think more specifically with Beetlejuice, because it’s such a character, that it was a lot more fun to really start from square one and go, “Okay, he’s dead. He’s been dead for a millennia. He is lonely, he’s disgusting.” And try to find my own version of that, rather than trying to glean the things from the movie. There are of course going to be similarities, because it’s the character, and we also have some iconic lines in the show, so we want to do this justice. But my favorite thing to do is to play, and playing leads to creativity, which leads to unique character. Which leads to, in my opinion, something that I’m very proud of, that Beetlejuice feels very different than the one in the movie, although he feels in the same world.
Has Michael Keaton seen the show?
No, he has not, and I’m waiting with bated breath.
Beetlejuice is now playing on Broadway. Click here to tickets.