‘Beetlejuice’ star Justin Collette is bringing the ghost with the most to life

Justin Collette (Beetlejuice) and Tour Company of Beetlejuice (Matthew Murphy, 2022)

DETROIT – Broadway veteran Justin Collette (School of Rock, Rock of Ages) is haunting theaters across America as the ghost with the most.

Now he’s haunting the historic Detroit Opera House with a two-week run in Beetlejuice, the Broadway hit based on Tim Burton’s 1988 classic. Here’s what he had to say about bringing the beloved poltergeist to life.

You’ve been on Broadway, but this is your first tour. How’s that going for you?

I love it. I love traveling. I love seeing the country. I love eating at different places. Being on tour is a dream for me. I love hotels, I love every part of it.  Listen, I love a pool. Anytime you can walk out of a place where you’re sleeping in a bathing suit and go straight to a pool unencumbered by the outdoors, what else do you need?

So you’ve had a pool at every tour stop?

No… I’ve been staying in some Airbnb’s and hotels. I like having an Airbnb or at least a kitchen because I really like to cook. For the longer stays, I like popping into a place where I can have a kitchen and fry some stuff.

Have you been to Detroit before?

Yes! I did the Detroit Improv Festival six or seven years ago. I loved it. I had a fantastic time there. I had Detroit-style pizza for the first time which I am very much looking forward to having again. It’s just such a fun city. The art scene is really vibrant and alive.

How is it taking Beetlejuice across the country for you?

Pure joy. It’s really fun. The cities we’ve gone to so far have a heavy theater subscriber base that get six shows a year. You’re going to see Hamilton or Hadestown, and maybe Mary Poppins or Sound of Music, and here comes Beetlejuice out on stage, this like raw demon. The show is so well-crafted that it’s jarring, but not in the way that you don’t then settle and get comfy. It’s been a fun surprise to take to cities. We also have a diehard fan base from people all around the country for this show. Getting to bring this show to them in their own city and giving people who didn’t get a chance to see it on Broadway has just been so great.

Beetlejuice became an early viral sensation on TikTok, which pretty much brought the show back on Broadway. How are you dealing with all of the social media fandom?

They’re the best. I get fan art sent to me. People are so invested in the characters in the story. It’s really the best part about it. I’ve had little plushies made for me. I had a bunch of fan art drawings. Someone made me into a Funko Pop. Also, every night people come dressed in cosplay. The costumes are unbelievable. They show up and it’s so motivating to go out every night and perform for those people. Being on the road can be tiring, but the energy that you get from just going into that building is so helpful. It’s so joyous and fun.

Justin Collette (Beetlejuice) (2022)

I’ve seen so many pictures of the audience dressed as Beetlejuice during the Broadway run.

Yeah and a ton of great Lydias. We get Girl Scouts. We get the Maitlands. Miss Argentinas. There’s just everybody from the show.

Have you seen any Othos yet?

Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I’ve seen an Otho yet. Otho is iconic. Why aren’t there more Othos? I would love nothing more than to perform for 2000 Othos judging me.

How did you get involved with the show?

I went through the standard Broadway audition process, which is typically very long. I think I auditioned for this for eight to ten months. I got to go in and meet the whole creative team. We’re really lucky the entire team that worked on it on Broadway also worked on the tour. It was really fun to get back in with people who helped build it from scratch. They were so invested in rebuilding and reinventing it again for this tour. So the process was really exciting working with them because a lot of the way we’re playing the characters aren’t necessarily the way they were played on Broadway. They were very excited about the prospect and encouraging you to go further in those directions.

And how is it building this whole team with all new cast members?

It’s been suspiciously easy. It’s like everybody just came into work and is still coming to work everyday like, “I like everybody and everybody’s fun.” Everybody’s just waiting for the other shoe to drop of like, who’s going to be the lunatic, and it hasn’t happened.

You worked with Alex Brightman (Broadway’s original Beetlejuice) in School of Rock, did he give you any advice on Beetlejuice?

He’s super great. When I was doing School of Rock we hung out a few times about how to play Dewey. We both agree that Dewey was a way bigger nightmare than Beetlejuice is. It was just much harder. The first time I met Elizabeth Teeter (Broadway’s Lydia), Alex and I were on our hands and knees in the parking lot behind the marquee and he was explaining to me how to do one of the magic tricks in the show. He’s like, “Oh, it’s no problem, you just do this.” He’s super supportive. I love building off of characters that he’s built. We have a similar sensibility and it’s just fun to tag team on these things.

You’re playing an iconic character. Do you feel any pressure to sound like him, or even Alex Brightman?

I understand the pressure exists. There are people that are going to love Alex, there are people that are going to love Michael Keaton. That’s amazing. This is not a monogamous relationship Beetlejuice has with its audience, this is polyamory. It’s everybody giving a different relationship to you. If you’re open to that, it’s going to be fun. If you’re not, then watch slime tutorials or watch the movie. But when I come in, I am just doing what I think is fun with this character specifically because the music, the lyrics and the book are so up my alley. I heard exactly how I would play it immediately.

I worked on this audition with a friend of mine in Houston when I was doing Rock of Ages. The day after I got the script, I was like, “Let me try something.” Then I did my version of Beetlejuice. And I was like, “Is that close?” and she was like, “Yeah.” So I’ve just been doing that character literally since the first time I read it. It just feels bizarrely natural to me. I also think that the credit goes to the creative team for not having any of us try to do a worse version of someone else’s character. We get to put our own spin on it and that’s what’s exciting to me.

Do you and Beetlejuice have anything in common?

After the pandemic, after two years of being alone in New York, after performing at the Winter Garden every night for a long time or not doing shows for years. It was the longest I’d ever gone without performing. After two years of it, just having Beetlejuice scream, “I need someone to see me!” was painfully relatable. I also think he’s a bit of an oversharer. I think Beetlejuice is definitely a three-beers-in Justin at the bar.

Do you have a favorite special effect?

There’s a great fire effect they added for this show where I get to trigger a fireball, but in order to have it track, one of my co-stars, Jesse Sharp, also has a fireball. So the first time I did it, I threw this ball of fire and he responds by catching a ball of fire and, for a second, was like “I just threw a ball of fire.” We really nailed the timing on it that it looks spectacular.

A key part of the show is the comedy, are you allowed to improvise?

Loads. They’re really, really gracious with that. I had a few meetings with the writers of the script who are brilliant, kind, sweet guys. One of them came to San Francisco where we were opening and I had a joke that I thought about adding to the show. I was like, “Can I pitch you something?” and I told him the joke. “Try it!” It worked really well and it’s been in the show ever since.

But the script is, honestly, so funny that there aren’t a lot of places that I’m itching to do improv. You know comedies can age really quickly and become stale. But so much of the script is holding up four to five years into it if you count the D.C. run. The moments I am improvising are moments that were written into the script to be improvisational. I also interact with the audience and you can’t predict that.

Beetlejuice is now playing at the Detroit Opera House through Sunday, February 12 with a runtime of 2 hours 30 minutes. Tickets start at $39. For showtimes and tickets, visit BroadwayinDetroit.com.

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