Making a Haunted Home for ‘Beetlejuice’

It almost takes longer to say “Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!” than for some of the scene changes to take place in the new Broadway musical based on the 1988 Tim Burton movie. Within minutes, sometimes seconds, workers must morph the traditional country home of the recently deceased Maitlands to the kitsch taste of the Deetzes, and then finally into a demon-infested haunted play land.

The eye-popping set is the brainchild of the scenic designer David Korins and the director Alex Timbers. Mr. Korins, who counts “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” among his Broadway credits, said in an interview at his Midtown studio that “Beetlejuice,” which had a preliminary run in Washington, D.C., was the most technically complicated show he had ever worked on. His task: making room for puppetry, special effects, quick changes and dance numbers while bringing Mr. Burton’s distinct style to life on one stage, without the film director’s ability to cut away.

Also a challenge: striking a balance between imitation and innovation. “I didn’t want to just put Tim Burton on stage,” Mr. Korins said. “I wanted to lean into the work but also put our own spin on it.”

When the creators began work six years ago, Mr. Korins said they set out to make the home a multifaceted character in itself. “Every single thing that is a telltale visual and architectural element gets changed,” he explained. “All the walls, all the window dressing, every single light fixture and the fireplace.”

“The Maitlands are kind of country-fabulous chic,” Mr. Korins said. “They then basically have their world bleached and modernized by the Deetzes.” And then, Beetlejuice has free rein.

Look closely when he takes over the home from the Deetzes: Flat walls contour in contrasting directions. How? Stagehands tack up undulating wall panels that bend and twirl to create the impression of chaos.

Beyond the big changes, small decorative details are traded in and out depending on which iteration of the house we’re watching.

Mr. Burton was an animator before making big budget live-action movies, and his drawing style subtly helped in the creation of the largely hand-painted Maitland home.

Consulting Mr. Burton’s illustration books, Mr. Korins was inspired by a flower the director once drew. He resized it, drew a new version as the pattern for the wallpaper, and then made a digital print. Then, he and his team drew on the pattern to add more texture.

“There isn’t one piece of furniture dressing or piece of architecture that doesn’t have some kind of a handmade, homemade quality to it,” Mr. Korins said.

Subtle clues to the Maitlands (played by Kerry Butler and Rob McClure) are housed in the attic walls, set pieces which slide in and out of the wings.

“The Maitlands didn’t really live life while they were alive,” Mr. Korins explained. “They had a lot of hobbies they abandoned because of their fear.” He added, “We conceived of the attic of almost a graveyard for their hopes and dreams.”

Signs of these side projects — yarn for knitting, a toolbox, picture frames, LPs and tennis rackets — are haphazardly squirreled away.

One item has a personal connection to Mr. Korins himself: a battered cigar box. His grandmother gave him one and he would fill it with his childhood treasures. He even keeps it in his office.

Mr. Korins requested that the attic in “Beetlejuice” have one as well. Not because Adam is a smoker: “I thought it was cool to have a memento of my childhood.”

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