Certain movie stars may be used to fans greeting them while in costume as some of their most famous characters. Theater actors, generally not so much.
So you can imagine Kate Marilley’s surprise when she was first confronted with folks decked out in the fanciful attire worn by her character, Delia, in the national tour of “Beetlejuice.” That sort of thing comes with the territory, though, when your show is based on a beloved 35-year-old film starring Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton as a fast-talking ghost with a penchant for chaos.
“The fans of ‘Beetlejuice’ are off the charts,” Marilley told the Union Progress. “To have people come dressed as me is really fun.”
“Beetlejuice” will be at Downtown’s Benedum Center from Tuesday to Sunday with tickets available at trustarts.org. Marilley, a 2005 alumna of Carnegie Mellon University, spoke with the Union Progress about her time in Pittsburgh, stepping into a role originated by one of her acting idols, learning how to dance like you’re being possessed by a ghost and more.
Marilley is a Southern California native who moved to Pittsburgh in 2001 to study acting and musical theater at CMU. She was in such denial about how unforgiving Pittsburgh winters could be that she wore sandals every day to school through February of her freshman year.
Despite the cold, Pittsburgh turned out to be a fruitful training ground for Marilley. She earned her equity card when she was 18 by performing in a Pittsburgh CLO production of “A Musical Christmas Carol.” The CMU School of Drama helped Marilley form the “thick skin” that has helped keep her consistently working in the entertainment industry for almost two decades.
“I felt that I thrived there,” she said. “I really dove into more of the acting part of it because it was really important for me to become a better actor in addition to singer and dancer. I really felt that Carnegie Mellon gave me the tools to succeed and thrive in my career.”
She hasn’t been back to Pittsburgh since visiting in 2011 for a friend’s wedding, but Marilley is “chomping at the bit” for her triumphant return with “Beetlejuice.” Being on tour has given her the opportunity to reconnect with friends and family members all over the country, and she already has plans to see her CMU professors and talk to students about “what life is like post-Carnegie Mellon.”
“Beetlejuice” is the first national tour for Marilley, who has enjoyed a prolific career at regional theaters and on Broadway. Like Tim Burton’s 1988 supernatural comedy, the show follows Lydia (Isabella Esler), a teenager who discovers the house she has moved into with her father (Jesse Sharp) and stepmother (Marilley) is haunted by a nice, recently deceased couple and the titular Beetlejuice (Justin Collette), who just wants to wreak havoc on everyone’s lives (and afterlives).
As a big fan of Burton’s filmography, Marilley knew “Beetlejuice” “like the back of my hand” long before she auditioned for the role of Delia, Lydia’s stepmother, who was originally played by Catherine O’Hara. Marilley is a huge fan of O’Hara and her comedic stylings, particularly her appearances in Christopher Guest movies and her work as Moira Rose on the Canadian sitcom “Schitt’s Creek.”
“The fact I get to step into her stilettos and do the iconic dinner party scene, life doesn’t get much better than that,” Marilley said.
She’s referring to the famous scene in Burton’s “Beetlejuice” where Delia, her husband and a few other dinner guests are possessed by ghosts and involuntarily start singing and dancing along to Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).” As “a heavy-duty dancer” since she was a kid, it was a challenge for Marilley to, as choreographer Connor Gallagher put it to her, “remove the technique” in an effort to make her movements look more robotic and coerced.
Her take on Delia accentuates the character’s pre-established quirks, including a fascination with crystals and the spirit world. Marilley said Benedum patrons may notice that her Delia contains “a little bit of Moira Rose,” a reference to the lovably melodramatic matriarch O’Hara played for six seasons on “Schitt’s Creek.”
“She’s a bit more bohemian in this version,” Marilley said of Delia. “I have her eccentric qualities from the movie combined with my own Lucille Ball pratfalling humor.”
Anyone going into “Beetlejuice” needs to be prepared for just how weird it gets. Expect pyrotechnics, “exciting costumes,” “lot of fun choreography,” video projections on hand-painted sets, quite a bit of raunchy humor, references to other Burton projects and plenty of fourth-wall breaking from Beetlejuice himself. Marilley posited that Collette’s “best scene partner in the show is the audience.”
In recent months, the Benedum Center has hosted the national tours of “Frozen,” “Les Miserables,” “Hadestown,” “Hairspray” and “Jagged Little Pill.” Marilley would like to see everyone who ventured Downtown for those shows do so again for one that, if nothing else, promises theatergoers a wild time at the Benedum.
“If you really want to have a conversation with … Beetlejuice, then come to the Benedum Center next week,” she said. “You will have a conversation with the ghost with the most.”