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How ‘Beetlejuice’ composer Eddie Perfect booked two Broadway shows in a season

Composer Eddie Perfect had been taking meetings in New York for close to two years before he got his big Broadway breakthrough. Thanks to frequent flights between Melbourne and the U.S.

Eddie Perfect was Tony nominated for his score for 'Beetlejuice.' (Photo by Walter McBride/Getty Images)

Composer Eddie Perfect had been taking meetings in New York for close to two years before he got his big Broadway breakthrough.

Thanks to frequent flights between Melbourne and the U.S., some persistence and the offer to write a few songs on spec, Perfect booked “Beetlejuice,” which opened in late April and garnered him a Tony nomination.

And shortly thereafter, Perfect was hired to write music for “King Kong,” which opened earlier in the season.

Perfect spoke with Broadway News at the Tony Awards press day about the audition process for “Beetlejuice,” and the challenges of developing two musicals in the same Broadway season.

Edited excerpts:

Broadway News: How did you approach creating songs for the character of Beetlejuice?

Eddie Perfect: The thing that I wanted from Beetlejuice was surprise and energy, and that was because by the time I came on to the project, Scott and Anthony, our book writers, had already been developing a script for about three years. And on the page Beetlejuice was so surprising. He was like a very dark, kind of demented, but extremely funny version of the Genie in “Aladdin.”

The thing that cracked it open for me was that he was described in the script as being, not one person, but a vessel for millions of multiple personalities. So I was like, “What if I wrote a different genre of music for every one of those personalities?” The first song I wrote for Beetlejuice was a song called “The Whole Being Dead Thing.” That opens with ska and zydeco and then goes into ukulele banjo folk. And then there’s seven counts of death metal, then back into ukulele folk, and then big band swing and kind of a Jamaican dancehall.

BN: Did you have to audition to get the job?

Perfect: Oh yeah. I mean nobody knew who I was, and I’d been coming to New York for about 18 months just trying to get my name on that great big writer list in the sky.

BN: For “Beetlejuice” or just in general?

Perfect: For anything. I just wanted to write in New York. Every six months I’d head to New York, see stuff and take meetings, but it didn’t really seem to be adding up to anything or going anywhere. There’s no system here.

But I heard that “Beetlejuice” was kicking around, and they didn’t have a composer/lyricist yet. So I asked my agent if I could pitch on it. He asked the Beetlejuice producers and they said no. But I said, “What if I wrote them two songs for free?” They sent me the script, and I just turned myself inside out writing those songs. It was Lydia’s song “Dead Mom,” Beetlejuice’s song, “The Whole Being Dead Thing,” and then I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for an opening number called “Death’s Not Great,” [which was later cut during a workshop]. I waited, and I didn’t expect to get the job at all.

BN: Was that around the same time you began writing music for “King Kong?”

Perfect: No, that was about 18 months before “King Kong.” We’d done about four workshops in development for “Beetlejuice,” before I got the call to write on “King Kong.” ”Kong” only took two years. He’s the idea. He’s the theater. So that was more like a kamikaze-type experience. No less enjoyable, but very different.

BN: So then you wound up with two musicals in the same season.

Perfect: Yeah. I would never do that again if I had the choice. They started relatively far apart, but they did the “King Kong” on Broadway and “Beetlejuice” in Washington D.C. at exactly the same time. I was on that Acela Express to Washington D.C. every day back and forth trying to tech and preview two massive Broadway shows at the same time. And that was painful and hard, and I would not recommend it.

BN: But now you’re here.

Perfect: Now I’m here, so all the pain has gone away.