“You’d be a sociopath if musical theatre came naturally to you,” jokes Alex Brightman. He is referencing the highly rehearsed and precisely calibrated technical aspects underneath his Tony-nominated turn as the title character in “Beetlejuice.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.
Brightman earned his second Tony nomination for playing the pinstriped demon (his first came from another movie adaptation, “School of Rock”). The musical has an astounding amount of technical elements to juggle, even though the actor doesn’t let the audience see him sweat. “It’s a musical, a magic show and a costume-change party” he explains. Brightman must keep all these elements running smoothly while giving an organic performance.
The way Brightman bounces around the stage unleashing sight gags and high notes may look effortless, but in reality there are countless intricate moving parts keeping the whole process moving. That includes a NASCAR-esque backstage crew that descends on him after each stage exit to prepare his next costume or makeup effect. “I do think they should sell seats backstage,” he admits, so audiences can witness the quick changes and stage magic being prepared.
Much of the magic of Brightman’s performance comes solely from the actor, however. The actor employs a gravelly voice for the entire show. You can spot anyone with musical training in the audience because they’re the ones clutching their throats, wondering how he doesn’t shred his vocal chords. “It sounds dangerous,” Brightman admits or his “Beetlejuice” voice, but “I’ve had at least three medical professionals tell me that it’s perfect fine.”
In reality, he employs a vocal technique called Ventricular Fold Phonation. As Brightman puts it, it involves “not using my vocal chords entirely to vibrate… almost like if you’re being choked.” He developed and maintained the signature voice for over a year, to ensure he could pull it off eight shows a week without any damage. “Otherwise this would have been the last show of my career,” he laughs.
The voice is just one of many character traits that makes Brightman’s Beetlejuice uniquely his own. That was a necessity considering the iconic nature of Michael Keaton’s bombastic performance in the original Tim Burton film. “I didn’t look at his performance as a cookie cutter to fit this cookie in,” says the actor. Brightman found the character through “a lot of playing around” and used his improv background to have fun with various voices and approaches until he found what works. As far as the Tony nominators are concerned, his efforts don’t just work, they sing.
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