Presley Ryan’s TikToks Have Made Beetlejuice Broadway’s Hottest Ticket

But the production is being booted out of its current home on June 6. What gives?

Image: Matthew Murphy

hen Presley Ryan was in middle school, she and her friends spent hours making videos on Musical.ly. And around a year ago, some of those friends kept talking about “the new Musical.ly” — TikTok. The star of Broadway show Beetlejuice The Musical downloaded the app and started playing around with it.

At 16 the youngest cast member in the musical, Ryan’s older colleagues often ask her about high school trends and what kids are into these days — a way to help them connect with younger relatives. Such a conversation happened in June after the prestigious Tony Awards, where the production was nominated for eight awards. “A few of us were hanging out in the vocal booth during the show and the conversation turned, as it often does, to the latest trends,” explains Presley. “Alex Brightman asked me to explain and teach them about TikTok.”

So Ryan showed her castmates the ins and outs of the app. They liked what they saw, and wanted to try it themselves. So using Ryan’s TikTok account, they started small, recording a simple video with Dana Steingold and Jill Abramovitz dancing along to ‘Bad Guy’ by Bllie Eilish.

“It’s so funny to watch it back now and to see them trying to figure out the technology,” says Ryan. Since then, she’s uploaded more than 30 videos to the platform, most of them showing other members of the Beetlejuice cast in character and costume.

“TikTok was a game changer for Beetlejuice because it allowed our original cast recording to reach millions more young people than Broadway marketing campaigns usually allow,” explains Jennifer Graessle, social media manager for the musical.

Graessle believes the musical’s songs work well on TikTok because of their quick, quirky lyrics. The success on TikTok has helped drive 150 million streams for the cast recording, “and its popularity, both on TikTok and beyond, has had a residual effect on the show’s social media presence and ticket sales,” she says.

Ryan’s TikToks — and the adoption of songs from the musical by other TikTok users — resulted in Graessle setting up an official TikTok account for the production around Thanksgiving. The largest proportion of followers on Beetlejuice’s social media accounts are women between the ages of 18 and 24 — similar to the the character of Lydia in the play. ‘Say My Name’ is the show’s most popular song on TikTok, used in over 1.4 million unique videos. And overall, user-generated content tagged with a Beetlejuice-related hashtag has been viewed almost one trillion times on the platform.

“TikTok has given our avid young fan base a place to celebrate their love for the show, and add their own voice to a community of peers who identify with Beetlejuice on a very personal level,” says Graessle. They’ve worn Beetlejuice cosplay on the platform, and bring it to the theater. “This community has been extremely vocal, and TikTok has amplified their voices into the millions.”

“The challenge set out for us on TikTok is how to turn those eyes back towards the Broadway show,” says Graessle. It seems to be working — seven in 10 Beetlejuice audience members are aged between 19 and 54, according to the production, 20 percentage points higher than the average Broadway show.

“It’s like we have a whole new fanbase from TikTok,” says Ryan. “I think TikTok has definitely encouraged more kids and teens to come see our show since they are finding out about our show from hearing clips of the songs and seeing cosplay on TikTok. Our show is appealing to a broader audience, not just the theater kids.”

Many of the conversations Ryan has with fans at the stage door suggest that Beetlejuice is their first Broadway show and that they’re seeing the show because they heard the music and saw a video on TikTok. “They’re asking to make them with me at the stage door,” she says. “It’s a really fun way to interact with our fans.”

It’s also been a savior for the show — even if it’s being kicked out of New York’s Winter Garden Theater, to be replaced by a revival of The Music Man. Initial reaction towards the production when it launched on Broadway in October 2018 was muted. “I think that word of mouth is what has saved the show from the initial critics of the show who are from an older generation and maybe just didn’t ‘get us’,” says Ryan.

The production will also be hopeful that online fame can translate into offline support: one Change.org petition lodged to keep Beetlejuice in its Broadway home has more than 30,000 signatures. Regardless of what happens in the next six months, it seems likely that Beetlejuice will find a new home somewhere — and it may be down to the avid support of a legion of TikTokers.

FFWD

Getting you up to speed with the world of online video

Chris Stokel-Walker

Written by

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com

FFWD

FFWD

Getting you up to speed with the world of online video

Chris Stokel-Walker

Written by

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com

FFWD

FFWD

Getting you up to speed with the world of online video