Skip to main content

Beetlejuice’s Julia Sunay makes an impact as one of the only women conductors at the Broadway level

By: Get News
Beetlejuice's North American tour is currently underway, featuring dates scheduled from May to July 2025.

Julia Sunay, Associate Music Director for the first national Broadway tour of Beetlejuice, conducts the orchestra and actors through the character Delia’s uplifting song. As one of the very few women holding that prestigious role at the Broadway level, Sunay has intentionally become a “beacon of light in the world” for other young artists. She’s achieved the highest level of professional excellence and found her home with a crew of equally excellent musicians, and she wants other young artists to know they can aspire to doing the same.

Throughout 2023, Beetlejuice’s tour amassed critical acclaim as it sold out venues across the country. The production, which the New York Times touts as a “jaw-dropping funhouse,” is set to continue through 2025. Much of the show’s success has been due to the cohesion of the cast and crew. Sunay has been instrumental in holding that creative unit together in order to deliver a consistently subversive, shocking but ultimately heartwarming performance — night after night.

Opening overtures

Julia Sunay’s expertise comes from a lifetime of intentionality. Originally from Calgary, Canada, Sunay can’t remember a time when she wasn’t drawn to the stage.

“As little girls, we love going to big shows and wanting to be on stage. I was always an extrovert with a big personality from a very young age,” the musician recalls.

That led to piano lessons starting at age 5. By age 14, her skills led her to working as an accompanist for a vocal studio. The young pianist fell deep into the world of musical theatre. She built her skills performing with a range of vocalists, productions and styles, including singers competing at the Calgary Kiwanis Music Festival. Her growing passion for the art form naturally led her into a degree program for Musical Theatre Performance, where she continued to hone her piano skills.

“As a music director, I think I have a unique take because my perspective is shaped by my background as a performer. I understand music, and I’m able to teach it. But I have this passion for the piano as an instrument as well,” Sunay muses. “Music directors, we all offer something different. I think for me particularly, it's this ability to connect with actors in a unique way — I love the collaborative process. You are always working together to ensure the music effectively supports the story.”

That range led her to continue working on productions throughout the Toronto area following college. Her transition to U.S. productions came in 2010 with a role in a Star Trek production at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

She continued to teach both vocal and piano lessons, but music directing magnetically drew her in.

Sunay explains, “My passion, when I was really honest with my skillset and where I could really contribute to this theater community, was in music directing. It’s that feeling when you’re really in sync with your life, when you're like, ‘oh, my skillset matches my passion.’ It really made sense: this love of theater, understanding both the performance aspect and also all the technical aspects that go into delivering a performance.”

She’s spent over 10 years now leaning into that passion and never looking back.

Musical directors are in charge of everything musical that happens on stage. They have a multitude of responsibilities, including rehearsing actors and musicians, guiding the cast onstage, playing in the orchestra and managing the show’s team of understudies and swings. Sometimes, you’ll see them stick conducting. On a show like Beetlejuice, you’ll find Julia Sunay playing piano and conducting at the same time.

“And that's sort of like flying a ship,” she says. “There's all these cues and choreography. You’re cueing actors, but also cueing your orchestra while playing, all while controlling all your keyboard sounds.” Fortunately, Sunay is an expert hand at the ship’s helm.

A stronger song

Julia Sunay’s expertise in music directing massive theater productions is a superpower forged in part through challenges she’s overcome. Most notably, Sunay has faced some of the inevitable gender bias that still exists in fine art spaces — especially in the more managerial roles. Right now, only about a third of music directing jobs go to women.

But that’s a significant improvement over how things were when Sunay was honing her musical chops.

“Unfortunately, there have been a couple of challenging experiences.” Sunay speaks with balanced positivity and candor as she looks back over her early days in musical theater. “I would say they've been all learning opportunities though. Often we hear women say, ‘oh, well that experience made me stronger.’ I think it does. We obviously grow the most in moments of adversity and challenge.”

Sunay’s love for the art has led her through the double-fold challenges of gender inequity and the inherent challenges of the field itself.

“I think the biggest challenge with music directors, particularly in musical theater, is we all have such diverse backgrounds, and with musicals being very contemporary now, it's not Oklahoma. These are contemporary musicals, so they usually have aspects of rock. Beetlejuice is like a fusion of jazz, rock, pop, swing, ska, tango and reggae. To be successful in contemporary musical theater, you can't just be a technically skilled pianist,” the consummate professional explains. “You have to be able to be versatile not only in your playing, but in the way that you teach and that you lead music. And that just comes from hard work and studying a variety of styles and genres.”

Taking the stage

Undeniably, that hard work is paying off not just for Julia Sunay, but for the next generation of creatives who are in the audience watching Beetlejuice across the U.S. She’s quick to recognize the value of being visible as she plays from the pit each night.

“There is a vast pool of talented women eager to rise to the occasion, but they require the necessary support and opportunities to fulfill their potential. I feel that support quite deeply in this Beetlejuice company, from all departments,” Sunay says earnestly.

In choosing the musicians for Beetlejuice, the Music Director deliberately assembled an outstanding group. He chose Julia as his Associate Music Director with an intentional eye to include someone whose skills were rock solid, although she had just one U.S. national tour under her belt with An Officer and a Gentleman. Throughout the tour, that support has been consistent from the Music Director, Supervisor, from the musicians, from the actors — and from the audiences.

“This particular combination of not only my band, but also the creative team, stage management and company managers, I can truly say that I feel a thousand percent supported every day when I walk into the building,” Sunay says. “And that can sometimes be hard as a woman. I've been in other contracts where you’re kind of being undermined. But with Beetlejuice, there's always this sense of empowerment. I always feel like a complete peer with everyone.”

That inclusivity really enhances the themes of the show itself. The cohesion of the crew is palpable for the audience as they watch the story unfold.

“The show really centers around love and family and belonging,” Sunay reflects. “Even Beetlejuice is an outsider, this crazy demon who's trying to find a place to belong. I remember the first time I conducted too. Whenever I conduct, I realize how much weight and importance there is in our story about this need to feel apart of something. And yeah, I think there are a lot of parallels. The parallel is that at the end, Lydia no longer feels alone. She has a sense of family, and a sense of home and inclusion.”

That’s what Julia Sunay would extend to other young people in auditoriums, watching her work.

She says, “I would say that there is absolutely a place at the table for you. There's space, and you should take up your space and own your power. And so the concept of visibility is so important to me, and why I think it's really wonderful that we are seeing a shift in more diversity and representation. You matter. Your talents can be used, your skillset is valued. Yeah, work hard, be prepared when the opportunity presents itself. But know that there's room here. Even though we are still underrepresented, there has been a huge amount of progress and shifts in our industry.”

There’s a pragmatism that’s come from the music director’s experience too, a smart attunement to practical steps forward. She suggests tapping into Maestra, an informal network for support and mentorship for women and nonbinary individuals in musical theater. She uplifts MUSE, an organization of musicians committed to racial equity. And she commends RISE, which centers DEIA tools and resources for theater.

Sunay’s optimism for the future comes from the lived experience of watching change happen, both in her own opportunities and in the landscape around her. She holds the same hope that is the birthright of every person dreaming of fulfilling their creative potential.

“Beetlejuice is about Lydia’s journey from feeling like an outsider to feeling part of something. I think that is perhaps somewhat like my journey and career: being in a position at times where I felt alone and undermined, to finding a company where I truly feel loved, respected and consistently supported. So it's like, find your people,” Sunay concludes. “That is the connection.”

You can learn more about Julia Sunay’s work at You can see her on the road with Beetlejuice by finding tour dates at

“Everything, everything happens for a reason
Be a beacon of light in the world
Put a little "alright" in the world
There are spiritual guides above, look up
And see 'em!
Perception is reality
Just listen to the melody the universe sings
'Cause everything, everything happens for a reason.” 

— Delia, Beetlejuice The Musical

Media Contact
Company Name: Beetlejuice
Contact Person: Mary Nikkel
Email: Send Email
Country: United States

Data & News supplied by
Stock quotes supplied by Barchart
Quotes delayed at least 20 minutes.
By accessing this page, you agree to the following
Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.