Songwriter Eddie Perfect Shares Stories and Trivia About His Beetlejuice Score
With the Beetlejuice cast album now available, the 2019 Tony nominee talks about how his score evolved into what you hear eight times a week at the Winter Garden.
Eddie Perfect's Tony-nominated score for Beetlejuice runs the gamuts of styles, from reggae to dancehall, zydeco to ska—with plenty of indie rock sounds for the strange and unusual Lydia at the story's center. With the original Broadway cast album—featuring Sophia Anne Caruso, Alex Brightman, Rob McClure, Kerry Butler, Leslie Kritzer, and Adam Dannheisser—now available from Ghostlight Records, Perfect breaks down his score song by song, sharing behind-the-scenes stories, how the track list evolved, and just who came up with Kritzer's crystals joke.
Beetlejuice continues performances at the Winter Garden Theatre. Directed by Alex Timbers and based on the Tim Burton dark comedy, the show features a book by Scott Brown and Anthony King.
Alex Brightman and Sophia Anne Caruso Matthew Murphy
“Prologue: Invisible” I’m a fan of the one-minute song. “Invisible” came about because it was shared emotional territory for both Beetlejuice and Lydia. Lydia’s just lost her mother, she’s at her funeral, and we have a brief moment to set up the idea of death, the sense of loss, and the macabre visual style of Tim Burton. The notion that you’re invisible when you’re sad came to me via my wife, who lost her mother when she was only eight years old. Much of Lydia’s insight into grief came from conversations with my wife about the loss of her mother, Mary. How adults don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. How nothing slows down or stops, but life presses onwards as if your grief doesn’t matter. Like there’s no time for it. I wanted to capture this in a very still way, and distill it down to a one-minute song.
You’ll hear our “Beetle-theme” at the beginning of this track, when the solo violin begins to play and the chorus sings. Originally we were going to use thematic material from Danny Elfman’s film score, but for some legal reason or another it didn’t happen. I wrote this very simple theme and Kris Kukul and I found multiple ways to re-harmonize and invert it in order to pepper it through the entire score. It turns up in all sorts of strange places—it’s even the Latin zither introduction to “What I Know Now”.
“The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing” This number was never intended to be our opening number. Originally I had an opening ensemble number called “Death’s Not Great” (cut in first workshop), followed by a song for Beetlejuice called “The Hole.” That song was basically giving Beetlejuice context as the guy who shows every dead person to their “hole.” He’s bored, naturally, so his motivation in that draft was to “get away from the hole.” That was a pretty bleak song, so it got cut. I wrote another song for Beetlejuice called “I Gotta Get Out of This House” which played with the idea that Beetlejuice has been cursed to haunt this house since back in Neanderthal times when it was only a cave. But no one wanted to put cave men and pioneers on stage. So that was cut.
The idea to make this song the opening number was one I resisted for a long time because it was always written as Beetlejuice’s first appearance to the Maitlands. The whole thing was designed as BJ’s sales pitch, but when we put it at the top of the show it very quickly became a sort of intense, Beetlejuice version of “Comedy Tonight.” Because Beetlejuice breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience, this song was a really fun way of giving the audience permission to laugh at some dark stuff. We didn’t have that angle in D.C., and I think it hurt us. But here Beetlejuice very clearly lets the audience know that this is a show about death, and that we only get one life so we should give ourselves permission to laugh at the thing that scares us most.
“Ready Set Not Yet” This song underwent a great deal of re-writing because what it has to do is both complicated for character and potentially very boring to watch. The Maitlands are vanilla. That’s their comedy engine. But it’s difficult to watch two characters on stage being very uptight and boring. However, when Beetlejuice tells the audience from the get-go that the Maitlands are about to die, it gave us license to front load the song with all their yet-to-accomplish hopes and dreams. I wrote the “rap” sections for each character because it was fun to me that they’d each been told quite explicitly by their friends that they’re substituting hobbies and projects for what they want most: kids. But they’re too afraid or preoccupied to see it, even as they quote their friends’ criticism verbatim. And obviously the idea of taking the “next step” and it turning out to be your last is fun to play with. In D.C., Barbara sang to her carrots, turning them into her “babies” to help her deal with the fact she’d had a miscarriage. That idea played too heavily so it was cut. Now they’re like every couple who are on the precipice of starting a family but finding every excuse to avoid taking the next step.
“The Whole ‘Being Dead Thing’ Part 2” This was the original position for “The Whole ‘Being Dead Thing,’ but since we’d already used it as an opening, we wanted to find a fresh take on the song for this moment. Whenever Beetlejuice sings “I’ll be upur guide to the other side” it’s in a new style. In the opening it’s banjo-folk and Sinatra swing, here it turned into drumline. But I tried many other —including Peking opera. Turns out Peking Opera was a bad idea. There’s dancehall in Beetlejuice’s “rap” here (I don’t like to call it a rap, since it’s completely sung). I used dancehall rhythms a lot in this score, because they felt like they were related by groove to the Harry Belafonte songs in the movie. There’s something about a dancehall groove that has old roots. It’s not a modern “bop” as the kids say, it leans into something “retro” (God I hate that term) that felt right for the score considering Beetlejuice is an old ghost and probably stopped listening to the charts long before Bieber turned up.
“Dead Mom” I wrote this song as part of a two song pitch to get the gig writing Beetlejuice (the other was “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing”). I wanted Lydia’s sound to be indie rock; something a teenager could sit on her bed with her fender guitar in hand and easily sing and play. Originally, Lydia’s “dead mom” was a Magic 8-ball that she consulted whenever she wanted to punk her father. At some point, “Dead Mom” became a presence or a feeling; a hunch that her mother had not completely disappeared but that she might belong to another reality beyond the living. It was this idea that Lydia would chase all the way to the Netherworld and back. The lyrics changed a lot with this one over the course of development, but always with an eye to put Lydia’s loss and need front and center—she lost her sense of home when she lost her mom. Her journey is about trying to find her home again.
“Fright of Their Lives” Musically, this track was inspired by ’80s movie montages. I’m a sucker for a montage (running upstairs, catching fish with bare hands, kicking down a banana palm with naked shin, etc), and the music is always epic rock. “Fright of Their Lives” wanted to be a Van Halen-esque training session, as Beetlejuice teaches the buttoned-down Maitlands how to be scary. We have two electric guitars in the pit (Sean Driscoll and John Putnam), so Kris Kukul put them together in a rehearsal room before we introduced the rest of the orchestrations in order to make sure the dual guitar parts were complementary. It’s also worth mentioning at this point that our drummer Shannon Ford was with us right through the workshops and in and out of D.C. His playing shaped the sound as he understands a huge range of styles and grooves and uses them in a theatrically minded way. So much of this score is about groove, and subtle changes to grooves so Shannon’s ability to switch up from swing to double kick death metal on a dime was a huge bonus to the show and to this album.
“Ready Set Reprise” This is the Maitlands’ first attempt to break free of the timid souls they were in life, and embrace something new. It’s completely faux, though. They’re still playing at it, so the reggae used here is basically a musical over-reach. From the start it was always Barbara pushing the two of them to be more, to change, to start. She is definitely the more daring of the two, the driver of change, even if they don’t achieve it here. They’re still in the “ready set” phase of their evolution. The “let’s go” of it doesn’t happen till Act 2. Special shout out to our percussionist Joshua Mark Samuels on the timbales. Audiences got so much pleasure from seeing Adam and Barbara Maitland (Rob McClure and Kerry Butler) let off the chain in Washington, D.C., that it sowed the seeds for “Barbara 2.0” for Broadway. I wanted to give the audience an even more profound and real sense of transformation. In this reprise they’re still who they were in life—just now covered in bedsheets with eye-holes cut out.
“No Reason” Delia and Lydia have completely conflicting world views. In the original version of this song that played in D.C., Lydia won the argument. But it was important to us that Lydia didn’t win. She’s trapped in a world that suddenly doesn’t fit her strange and unusual-ness. My world view runs in line with Lydia’s, so I was motivated to satirize Delia’s “power of positive thinking” ethos. But a strange thing happened along the way where we thought it would be useful and powerful to know exactly why Delia has come to believe that “everything happens for a reason.” So the new bridge was written where we discover that Delia has been through some stuff, and that life is really about making a choice to look for the positives or sink into the abyss of chaos and defeat. In a way, Delia’s logic is wrong but strangely right. Shit happens. It’s what we do next that counts.
Also, one of my favorite experiences in writing Beetlejuice came from getting with our book writers (Anthony King and Scott Brown) for the crystals joke. I had Delia’s setup of “I’ve found my frequency / Crystals speak to me” and Lydia’s response of “And what are they saying?” but I didn’t know how Delia would respond. It was Scott Brown who quickly came up with “buy more crystals,” which kills night after night. Also, Leslie Kritzer. Come on. She is just so profoundly funny and inventive and just nails every little thing you throw at her.
“Invisible Reprise/On the Roof” At this point in the show we haven’t checked in with Beetlejuice for a while. When we left him he was utterly defeated by the Maitlands’ ineptitude. Here he is now, sulking on the roof. The idea to reprise Lydia’s “Invisible” for Beetlejuice came just before we opened in D.C.
“Kentucky Avenue” by Tom Waits is one of my favorite recordings. Having Beetlejuice sing in this register and with (absurd) melancholy was pure Tom Waits for me. I recorded the demo for this in a low key so we tried raising it for Alex Brightman. But something about it being in his middle range sucked the comedy out of it. So we kept it down in my original key and all the gravel Brightman brings to it only makes it funnier.
I’d just like to take a moment to sing Alex Brightman’s praises. I know it sounds hyperbolic, but I have never seen someone so endlessly inventive, hilarious, and creative in rehearsal. Alex tries everything. And he’s open to anything. He is one of the hardest working and genuinely funny actors I’ve ever worked with. I never stop being in awe of his talent and work ethic.
“Say My Name” On the original demo this song was so long. I kept adding section after section as Beetlejuice and Lydia desperately try to one-up each other, out-charm each other, and eventually manipulate and outsmart each other. I didn’t know where to stop, actually. This was one of those songs that spent a lot of time being investigated between myself and the book writers. On a macro level, Beetlejuice’s groove is slow, bouncy, and tinged with Indian sitar, hand percussion and strings. You hear this in popular Punjabi Desi music all over India. I’m kind of obsessed with the swagger of it. We wanted him to be coming from an ancient place; charming but dangerous. When Lydia’s groove takes over it is straighter and faster, since her mind moves at a quicker pace.
When Lydia finally pushes Beetlejuice off the roof and hi-jacks his chorus it was one of the few moments in the show where we could get Lydia to play pure joy. She’s been so depressed and angry point that writing a victory lap for her here (where she lands on a plan to finally be seen) was important. Lydia is most herself when she’s on a mission, so this was a great opportunity to put some agency in her hands and let our audiences see her on the up.
Leslie Kritzer and Adam Dannheisser Matthew Murphy
“Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated by this song. I mean, “Day-O” was already 32 years old by the time Tim Burton included it in the 1988 film, having been released by Harry Belafonte on his Calypso album in 1956. The world has a 63-year relationship with Day-O. Audiences literally walk into the theatre humming it. And it was always going to be in the musical due to the fact that it made such an incredible impact in the film. The dinner party scene looms large in the popular consciousness, so the only thing I could do as a composer was to use Calypso (as well as reggae, dancehall, zydeco, ska, swing, and so on) throughout the rest of the score in various ways. As you’re probably hearing, there is plenty of Elfman-esque spook and bounce in Beetlejuice’s songs and sprinkled throughout the underscore, but for the other characters I wanted to find a musical affinity between their sound and the sound of “Day-O” and “Jump in the Line.”
The underscore you hear after Lydia says Beetlejuice’s name three times was taken from a song I had written to close out Act 1 called “Step Right Up.” That song was ramped -up carnival rock, with Beetlejuice and Lydia transforming the dinner party guests into various metal-target ducks, open-mouthed clowns, and test-your-strength-o-meters before comically ejecting them from the house. In the end the song was too long and held up the action, but the music from it was taken by Kris Kukul and used as underscore as a giant Beetle-Head rises up and swats the guests out of the house like flies.
“Girl Scout” Girl Scout acts as an entr’acte of sorts by letting an audience know that there is a world outside the house that it is inhabited by other humans with real lives (and complicated health problems). When I think about the kind of person who I’d least like to see scared, it’s a girl scout with congenital heart disease. Fun fact, this song was originally “Girl Guide” (which is what they're called in Australia) and it took about a week for my collaborators to ask me, “What is a Girl Guide?” So that’s why Skye is called Skye. It rhymes with Guide. It was nice to start the act inside the Girl Scout’s story and follow her into what is very much now a haunted house situation. That way we know what’s at stake; she’s in very real danger of being scared to death. I would call that black comedy, whilst others may call it callous and sick. Rest assured, Skye survives and goes on to become a Supreme Court judge and Netflix makes a documentary about her and Uniqlo puts her face on their T-shirt line so it’s all good because she’s not real.
“That Beautiful Sound” This song moment was originally a swing duet for Beetlejuice and Lydia, a la “Me and My Shadow,” called “You Can Only Work With What You Get.” It was a fun song, but it didn’t have a lot of action inside it, so it was cut to make way for this song. I love an Act 2 song and dance moment, and since our Act 1 is very much a chamber piece set inside one location, this was an opportunity to celebrate our ensemble. This song was worked on heavily by all creative departments, and a big influence on the final result was the work of Connor Gallagher (choreographer) and David Dabbon (dance arranger). Since most of the songs in the score thus far are pretty dense lyrically, it was good to return to simplicity here. Songs like “Brotherhood of Man” were a big influence, and “That Beautiful Sound” really only has an A/B form with a Beyoncé-vibe C-section in which Beetlejuice clones himself. So it’s not complex in any way, but we made sure each moment led to the next and the next so that it grew to a frenzied climax. This song is the most like the Beetlejuice cartoon I grew up on as a kid; Lydia and Beetlejuice making mischief together, unlikely pals on the road to more freedom.
“Barbara 2.0” Originally this was a song for Barbara Maitland called “The Children We Didn’t Have.” It played well in D.C., but ultimately the Maitlands’ journey became too distilled down to the sadness of not having kids. Apart from foreshadowing the Maitlands’ potential as surrogate parents by the play’s end, it was also in danger of feeling unrelated to the score. I followed it up with yet another ballad called “What’s Left?” which was about coming to terms with who they were now that they are no longer alive. Although the song was very much an argument/decision song (do we stay here or go to the Netherworld?), there was something about the earnestness of a ballad in this part of the show that never felt right to me. Through no one’s fault but mine, the ballads opened an energy hole that the entire second act fell into.
“Barbara 2.0” didn’t turn up until we were in tech rehearsals at the Winter Garden. I really wanted a call to action for the Maitlands, and for them to shed the frightened, inert people they were in life in order to become a newer, braver version of themselves. It was actually Kris Kukul who came up with the idea of Adam and Barbara finally finishing the sentiment served up in their first act song by having them sing “ready set, let’s go.” Putting this song in the show so late was a mission. We had to quickly get everyone on board. I don’t think Kerry fully loved it at first, but she committed to it like crazy because she’s Kerry Butler and she’s amazing. And that’s a high G at the end Kerry belts eight shows a week like an absolute boss. (I wish you all could have been in the room when we first asked her to sing that.)
“What I Know Now" In D.C. this was a different song, performed by a boy band (Boy Inferno, who had all died in a fiery plane crash) called “Everything Is Kinda Meh.” And boy, did that song split audiences down the middle. I guess the motivation for removing it was that, at its core, it used a trope that felt dated. My wife had been pushing me for at least two years to write a song for Miss Argentina because she loved her (brief) scene in the film. Lucy sent me a YouTube clip of the Netherworld processing scene and I was reminded that Miss A’s line was so powerful: “If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have had my little accident.” I was uber conscious not to make this a song about the pros and cons of suicide, but a celebration of life from the perspective of the dead. Argentina is obviously famous for its tango, so that got a run in the verses and then I expanded to Cuban Latin for the choruses. Again, Leslie Kritzer is so good. We literally never knew what she was going to do each time she ran this number. But she found the essence of this bossy, over-bearing ex-beauty queen with a heart of gold from the start.
“Home” This is probably the fourth song I’ve written for this particular moment. Originally, Lydia reunited with her mother in the Netherworld and sang a duet called “Running Away.” But the writers and I came to understand that the real unification needed to occur between Lydia and her father, Charles. I wrote another duet for Lydia and Charles called “Raise You Up” before writing “Home,” which itself is much changed from Washington, D.C. This is where Lydia’s obsession with the fantasy of “Dead Mom” comes crashing down. She’s been avoiding grieving her mother by chasing this idea of her all the way to the Netherworld, but the Netherworld is so unfathomably vast that she has to make a decision: continue into the nothingness forever with no probability of seeing her mother again, or return to life and clean up the mess she left behind. There’s a big long scene between Lydia and Charles that we cut for the recording, but the idea remains the same: Life is about holding onto each other and living through it. And “home” is wherever you are loved and accepted and offer that love and acceptance in return.
“Creepy Old Guy” This one scared the pants off everyone from the start. In the film, the forced marriage between Lydia and Beetlejuice is a huge plot point, but it’s not explicit what marriage will actually achieve for Beetlejuice. We knew we wanted to keep the marriage for the stage show and make it about Beetlejuice gaining life (rather than gratification), but it’s still creepy AF. My instinct with dark material is to lean right into it. And since Lydia has a plan to kill Beetlejuice by bringing him to life, she really needs to convince him that she’s wild about the idea of marriage. I recall at the time I was writing this song there were these viral videos of women strapping hidden cameras on themselves and walking around Manhattan to show just how often women are sexually harassed in the streets. It really made me question whether these guys ever thought they'd succeed with this approach, so I used “Creepy Old Guy” to take a big ol’ swing at all the street sleazes out there. Lydia, Delia, and Barbara use Beetlejuice’s ego to trick him into thinking that a creepy old guy has finally wormed his way into her heart through the power of sexual harassment. That’s what the song asks: What if a creepy old guy got the very thing he wanted?
“Jump in the Line” This song always had the same effect on audiences in D.C. As soon as they heard the opening riff on the Quattro guitar, they’d clap along. When Lydia flies in the air, they’d cheer. It had this great heart but it never quite buttoned in a strong way. We were trying to tell the story that Lydia was going to be OK, and that this pair of ghosts, a bonkers step-mom, and a reformed father would be a solid family for her. Again, since this was not my song I kind of leaned out of it from a dramaturgical point of view. But after D.C. it was clear that it needed something else to finish our story and button the piece in a strong way. In the Netherworld, Lydia’s idea of a “Dead Mom” disintegrates, and she finds real acceptance and connection with her father. I thought it might be nice if she rekindled the idea of “Dead Mom” in this final moment. And musically, “Dead Mom” happened to fit nicely inside “Jump in the Line.” We get to hear from Lydia that she’s going to be OK, that life is complicated, messy, and unpredictable and we never stop loving the people we’ve lost.