Opinion: Beetlejuice and How Social Media is Affecting Broadway


Image courtesy of Deadline

Callan Engstrom, Editor

  Broadway is at the heart of New York culture, and bolsters itself as one of the few truly American art forms. One thing that sets it apart from other art forms is it’s accessibility. Theater has always been a high-class venture, with modern broadway tickets reaching upwards of $2,000, and the limited number of cities and venues possible. In the early 1990’s, the Broadway musical was becoming a dying art form. Ticket sales were reaching all-time lows, and shows were closing left and right. It wasn’t until the turn of the century when Broadway started picking up steam again with shows such as Wicked and the Lion King, and most recently, Hamilton. Since 2016, Broadway has seen some of its highest turnout numbers ever recorded, with a new generation of musical theater fans feeding off of the increased availability of theater. 

  People nowadays are able to consume media and information at a rate that’s almost impossible to keep up with. Teens are being able to control economic markets though advertising like never before. Different people are seeing themselves represented with a new way of diversity and inclusivity. With digitally streaming cast albums, youtube vlogs, bootlegs, and press interviews, people living thousands of miles away are able to now participate in the Broadway experience that used to be exclusive. Many modern Broadway casts are embracing this to the fullest extent, with live Q&A sessions on social media and weekly Youtube vlogs. Some casts are even going full Gen-Z and getting accounts on the popular video-sharing app TikTok. The classic Broadway musical is entering the unprecedented arena of the general public. 

Image courtesy of Broadway Direct

  With this comes issues, which can clearly be seen on Dec. 9th, when it was announced that the hit musical Beetlejuice: The Musical would be closing. Beetlejuice is a case study on how mass media is shaking the broadway world. The musical struggled at first, receiving bad reviews during its out-of-town tryout. It was nominated for eight Tony awards, but won none of them. The American Theater Wing (think The Academy of Broadway) had basically deemed it a consumerist romp and a failure. But against all odds, Beetlejuice began gaining traction, particularly among the younger populations. It became an overnight sensation, with over a million Spotify streams, culminating in them setting a box office record at the Winter Garden Theater with over $1 million dollars in ticket sales during Thanksgiving week, according to the Vulture article, “Sorry, TikTok Fans, Broadway’s Beetlejuice to Be Booted From Theater”. 

  But all of this success came crashing down when it was announced that Beetlejuice was being evicted from the Winter Garden Theater in June 2020 in order to make room for the upcoming revival of The Music Man (starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster). This news was met with an outcry, with fans citing popular support and ticket sales are reasons Beetlejuice was being unfairly kicked out. People took to social media in masses, creating the hashtag #savebeetlejuice and posting countless comments attacking producers and theater executives on the Music Man’s pages.

Sutton Foster and Hugh Jackman, the stars of The Music Man. Image courtesy of People

  Around two to eight Broadway shows close every year, it’s just part of the cycle of this industry. What makes this scenario unique was the way it was handled by the public. According to the Playbill article, “Beetlejuice to Close at Broadway’s Winter Garden as The Music Man Revival, Starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, Secures Theatre”, the Shubert Organization, the company producing Beetlejuice, made the deal to close the show back in October, after the show hit lagging ticket sales back in May. People are upset because the show’s ticket sales have increased since then. Beetlejuice is looking to possibly move into another Broadway theater, and already have a national tour booked in 2021. 

  There have been upsets over popular shows closing before, but never on this scale. The Music Man social media pages had to delete many posts due to the amount of harassment being directed at the cast members. Due to musicals becoming so popular, people start to believe that they are apart of the public domain, and therefore belong to the people. Broadway is a business that is driven by the customer, but at the end of the day, people forget that it is still a business. As soon as a show hits it’s “stop figure”, the show closes, no matter how popular. No matter what people think, the producers rented the theater to the Music Man because they thought it would make them more money that having Beetlejuice stay open. But they can’t do this quietly anymore, the new digital age makes sure that transparency is ensured in any major corporation transaction. Now, every move that producers make is scrutinized by thousands of teenagers who think that they know the ins and outs of show business. 

  For now, Beetlejuice’s future is uncertain. Many factors are obstructing their search for a new theater, such as the massive size of their set. But one thing we know for sure, the business of Broadway and the reactions from the general public will never be the same.