A Fright of a Night: Interview with Michael Biren of Beetlejuice

Michael Biren always thought it would be possible to perform at the Academy of Music. The Cherry Hill, NJ native was exposed to the arts at a young age through his parents. The actor will make his second appearance at the Philadelphia theatre with the National Tour of Beetlejuice. Biren is an ensemble member, and understudy for multiple roles, in the production.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

[Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad Street] May 30-June 11, 2023; kimmelculturalcampus.org

Debra Danese: When did you first get bit by the theatre bug?

Michael Biren: I first got bit by the theatre bug when I was super young. My father was an actor in the Philadelphia area and went to Temple for theater. My mother was a ballet dancer when she was younger. By the time I was four, I was in tap class at a local dance studio and was doing shows for my father at the JCC in Cherry Hill. As I got older, it just continued to grow. I was lucky because I had seen my father have a career in the arts and had a template to kind of follow. I had tons of support from my family as I was figuring out that I was going to pursue this as my profession.

DD: What are your Beetlejuice pre-show rituals?

MB: It’s a super physical show for me so, to prepare for all of the dancing, running around backstage, changing costumes and make up, I like to do a full warm up. I’ll usually show up to the theater about an hour before show time and spend time stretching, doing some little exercises and PT, and warming up vocally. After getting into my first costume, I typically go onto the stage and walk around a bit. I go over any notes that I have gotten recently, or work on some tricky choreography moments, just to get mentally in the right place for the performance.   

DD: What is your favorite number to perform? 

MB: I think my favorite number to perform is ‘Beautiful Sound.’ It’s this show-stopping, crazy dance number that opens the second act. It’s just so much fun. The ensemble is all dressed as clones of Beetlejuice with different personality quirks. There’s so much going on on the stage at any given moment, that it’s visually incredible. It’s a hard dance number because it’s so athletic, but getting to do it with such a great cast is incredibly energizing. It ends up being just a wonderful time on stage. 

DD: When growing up in Cherry Hill, did you ever imagine you would be performing in front of thousands at the Academy of Music?

MB: It was always a hope! I remember going to see performances at the Academy of Music and thinking of it as a goal to get to perform there one day. My little sister performed with the Pennsylvania Ballet in The Nutcracker, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a couple of other ballets there, so I knew it was possible. I actually first got to perform at the Academy in 2011 with the national tour of Billy Elliot. That was a dream come true but I haven’t been back since. This definitely feels like a homecoming.

DD: Have you ever had a ghostly experience?

MB: I have! I went to Muhlenberg College and there are some famously haunted dorm rooms and well-known ghosts on the campus. I got to live in one of those dorms my sophomore year with some friends; and a ghost named Oscar. Oscar’s story was that he loved his rose garden and our dorm happened to be sitting on top of where it used to be planted.  We all went out to dinner and came back to find lots of stuff in the apartment rearranged. We had heard the solution was to have flowers in the rooms. We went out and got some roses and put them in every room. We didn’t have any more problems with him after that. But coming back from dinner with everything upside down and switched around was definitely a scary moment.

Beetlejuice plays at the Academy of Music, on the Kimmel Cultural Campus, May 30-June 11, 2023. [240 S Broad St.] https://www.kimmelculturalcampus.org/events-and-tickets/202223/broadway/beetlejuice/

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