Of Notoriety: Pre-Broadway ‘Death Becomes Her’ has audiences and die-hard fans in stitches (2024)

Sometimes there’s an extra special curtain notice that has readers eager to know what’s behind Broadway’s (blood) red curtain before it rises.

This is definitely the case for Broadway in Chicago’s pre-Broadway run in the Windy City of “Death Becomes Her — Musical Comedy Revitalized,” which played preview performances starting April 30 at Cadillac Palace Theatre in downtown Chicago before an official opening night on Sunday, May 19 and now continuing with performances through June 2.

Only once have I ever watched the 1992 Universal Pictures movie starring Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn as infamous frenemy rivals, feuding over eternal youth and beauty while at a tug-of-war for the same man, played by Bruce Willis, with this trio of egos all under the spell of a mysterious and magical enchantress played by Isabella Rossellini.

In fact, until some recent review and research, I’d forgotten that both Willis and Rossellini were even costars in the film.

Reader Maria Arteaga of Lansing, Illinois, can name the entire cast and recount every aspect of the film, joined by a list of other readers, all of whom wrote or contacted me with questions about this latest stage treatment headed to open in New York this fall.

Arteaga later followed up with me to share her newly purchased (very purple) shirt emblazoned with the show’s logo, a gift to herself after she won “day-before lottery” tickets to catch a preview performance last week with her husband.

“Just got my tickets for June 1, so how is it?” writes Susana Rodriguez, while readers Vicki Brant of Munster and Tim Slatton of Michigan City both also wrote to say they’d slipped into the city to see a preview and loved every minute of the stage mayhem, sharing the same praise as Arteaga’s show sentiment.

It leaves me wondering if I’m the only one who didn’t realize this movie has such a vast fan following and a reputation as a cult classic.

But after also having watched Broadway in Chicago take their own stab at this stage musical comedy, admittedly, I’m now in the same campy camp as all of these readers and audiences who are avid fans of this funny fantasy farce of avarice, vanity and revenge.

Starring Tony Award nominees Megan Hilty as the Streep character Madeline, Jennifer Simard in the Hawn role of Helen, opposite Christopher Sieber as Ernest, the middle man object of their latest feud, this two-and-half-hour, one-intermission clever morbid and mirth musical is an audience love potion. The fourth member of the cast lead is Grammy Award winner Michelle Williams as Viola, the keeper of the secret formula for eternal life.

This stage adaption has been in the works since 2017 and is anchored by the book from Marco Pennette, the instant classic original score by Julia Mattison and Noel Carey, and masterfully directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Christopher Gattelli.

“Death Becomes Her” has an old-school Broadway approach, blending a video screen landscape with a lush, elaborate, traditional set, fun props and lots of trickery and very effective special effects to convey the many ways the two queens of screams can maim and pummel one another in scene after silly scene.

There are also plenty of hidden treats for fans of the film to spot as fun nods to the original movie character moments, such as cans of frosting (a sweet and brief remedy for depression), Elvis Presley sightings and a massive dangerous staircase, the latter worthy of a Scarlet O’Hara scene entrance from “Gone with the Wind.”

The four principal characters are backed by an incredible ensemble including Marija Abney, Sarita Colon, Kaleigh Cronin, Natalie Charle Ellis, Gabriella Enriquez, Taurean Everett, Michael Graceffa, Neil Haskell, Kolton Krouse, Sarah Meahl, Diana Vaden, Sir Brock Warren, Bud Weber, Ryan Worsing, and Warren Yang.

And there’s also Josh Lamon, cast in the first act with a funny and meaty role as Stefan, the personal assistant to fussy diva Madeline and based on the character of Rose, who is Madeline’s long-suffering maid in the film version. Much like the maid character disappears during the second half of the movie, unfortunately, Stefan becomes MIA in Act II.

The all-star creative team for “Death Becomes Her” includes Derek McLane for set design, Paul Tazewell’s parade of eye-popping costumes, and stage tone set seamlessly by Justin Townsend for lighting design, paired with Peter Hylenski’s sound and Rob Lake providing stage illusions. Charles LaPointe brings a parade of hairdos and wigs to compliment Joe Dulude II handling the makeup artistry.

As readers hinted to me, this new stage version provides an alternate ending that was not used in the film after director Robert Zemeckis tested it with audiences more than three decades ago. But for this stage musical finale, the ending choice is the perfect final nail in the proverbial coffin for a satisfying conclusion that raises audiences to their feet.

Ticket prices start at $30 and are available at www.BroadwayinChicago.com or visit www.deathbecomesher.com. The musical is scheduled to open on Broadway in New York on Oct. 23, 2024, at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

Philip Potempa is a journalist, published author and the director of marketing at Theatre at the Center. He can be reached atpmpotempa@comhs.org.

Of Notoriety: Pre-Broadway ‘Death Becomes Her’ has audiences and die-hard fans in stitches (2024)


What is Death Becomes Her Musical about? ›

About the Show

They have always been the best of frenemies…until Madeline steals Helen's fiancé away. As Helen plots revenge and Madeline clings to her rapidly fading star, their world is suddenly turned upside down by Viola Van Horn, a mysterious woman with a secret that's to die for.

What is the message of Death Becomes Her? ›

Death Becomes her shows the true competitive side of women that scares most of the human race, how far we will go to be the hottest, the smartest, the kindest, etc. But also the whole essence of eternal youth, beauty and living forever, and Death Becomes Her handles the subject very well.

How does Death Becomes Her end? ›

Helen and Madeline, acting on Lisle's orders, attempt to track Ernest down, first returning to Madeline's place, only to find Ernest has already packed and headed for the airport. It is then that they realize that they are now stuck with each other. 37 years later, Ernest finally dies, and a funeral is held for him.

What is the premise of Death Becomes Her? ›

Its plot follows two women who fight for the affections of the same man and drink a magic potion that promises eternal youth. Filming began in December 1991 and concluded in April 1992; it was shot entirely in Los Angeles. Death Becomes Her was released in the United States by Universal Pictures on July 31, 1992.

Who was the villain in Death Becomes Her? ›

Madeline Ashton is one of the two villainous main protagonists in the black comedy film Death Becomes Her, alongside her rival Helen Sharp. The two women have known each other since they were schoolgirls, and have been rivals ever since.

What was the original ending of Death Becomes Her? ›

The original Death Becomes Her ending is a change of pace following the narrative grandiosity that precedes it. It's a somber switch that pulls at the heartstrings. It gets at the consequence of their choice and gives Helen a chance to reflect, entering a place of regret — which she will now live with for eternity.

What is the evil dead the musical about? ›

Five college students go to an abandoned cabin in the woods, and accidentally unleash an evil force that turns them all into demons. It's all up to Ash (a housewares employee, turned demon-killing hero), and his trusty chainsaw to save the day. Blood flies. Limbs are dismembered.

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