“My favorite thing to do is to play, and playing leads to creativity, which leads to unique character.” – Alex Brightman
Broadway star Alex Brightman has spent a good deal of the last several years at the Winter Garden Theatre. From November 2015 to November 2016, he performed the lead role in School of Rock there (and returned for a brief stint in April 2017), and now he currently stars as the title character in Beetlejuice on the very same stage. Perhaps that theatre brings him good luck, because Brightman was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for his performances in both of those musicals. In a conversation with People, Brightman talks about how he manages to perform using Beetlejuice’s distinctive voice as well as the challenge of developing a character familiar to audiences while also bringing his own approach to the role.
One of Brightman’s biggest challenges was first developing Beetlejuice’s familiar gravelly voice and then maintaining it over eight performances a week. Brightman explains that it’s part of the conditioning of being a performer:
“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.
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.”
Brightman has made a stage career out of starring in stage adaptations of popular films, from appearing in supporting roles in Matilda the Musical and Big Fish to stepping into the shoes of two comedic Hollywood stars — Jack Black and Michael Keaton respectively — for his latter two Broadway roles. Brightman sees it as a daunting, but delightful, challenge. He explains:
“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.”