When Lydia Deetz first appeared onscreen in 1988, she became an instant icon for misfits everywhere. The young outsider at the center of Tim Burton's Beetlejuice rocked blunt raven-black bangs, goth getups (low-key chic back then; now fodder for every edgy, fashion-forward teen's Pinterest board), and an angst-fueled fixation on death. She was also a good-hearted hero, the soul of the ghoulish comedy. Lydia was played by Winona Ryder, then an apple-cheeked 17-year-old in one of her first-ever movie roles, the beginning of Ryder's reign as the poster child of offbeat rebellion. Sophia Anne Caruso, who plays Lydia in the musical adaptation, in previews on Broadway now, is also 17. She calls Beetlejuice a childhood favorite "that I'd watch on repeat as a kid." Though she never had a full-beat goth phase, "Winona has always been an actress I've admired," she says. "I was kind of dark in my own way as a kid, so I definitely identified with her."

But onstage, Caruso's Lydia—whose role is amped up, and who Caruso infuses with crackling all-the-way-to-the-cheap-seats charm—isn't meant to retread Ryder's performance. "The simple answer is that I'm not her and she's not me," says Caruso. "Also, the worst cases of movies turned into musicals are, in my opinion, the ones where they just try to pluck it from the screen and plop it on the stage." And though Caruso is barely old enough to drive down Broadway, she's been performing onstage long enough that she has a theater vet's sportsmanlike desire to plant her flag in a role. "I like to originate the parts I play," she says. "I like to develop a role from the ground up."

Sophia Anne Caruso
Sophie Elgort

Caruso started performing at age nine at the now-shuttered Interplayers Theater in her hometown of Spokane, Washington. First she played (who else?) little orphan Annie, then Hellen Keller in a stage production of The Miracle Worker directed by Patty Duke, who played the role in the original Broadway run in 1959 and won an Oscar for the 1962 film adaptation. Caruso's mother had a store selling antiques, vintage clothes, and jewelry, and would lend her wares to the local theater for their shows."She knew the crowd, and so we would go to shows," says Caruso. "Just watching them, I knew this is what I really wanted to do." Since then, Caruso has originated roles in plays like the musical Little Dancer and the sci-fi drama The Nether. She made her Broadway debut in a small but pivotal role alongside Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels in 2016's critically-lauded Blackbird.

Beetlejuice is Caruso's first major role in a Broadway production, one that she started developing over two years ago with director Alex Timbers, co-star Alex Brightman (who plays Beetlejuice), and executive producer Mark Kaufman, whom she'd known from previous shows. She's worked on the character through its creation, a run in Washington, D.C., and now its New York debut. ("I've actually kind of lost track of time," she says. "It all kind of smooshes together and I just wake up, do my shows, and forget what day it is.") The production is big, ornate, and complicated—an homage to Tim Burton's weirdest and wildest dreams. "One of my friends saw the show and said, 'It's like you're running around on a jungle gym!'" says Caruso. "It's very high-tech, it's very elaborate and eclectic."

But the most nerve-racking scene is a number where Caruso is the only person in front of the audience. In D.C., she shared the stage with another actor, but the show has since been tweaked to put the spotlight solely on Caruso. "Just standing on the bare stage, singing the song. At first, you're so incredibly intimidated and nervous, then it's exciting. I'm just so glad I get to do it." The biggest challenge? "This is funny," says Caruso only a little bashfully. "By the time that number happens [in the show], I've been drinking so much water, and I really have to go to the bathroom—and of course I can't! I'm the only person onstage!"

Sophia Anne Caruso
Sophie Elgort

Caruso has started building up her IMDb resume too. Recently, she juggled her theater duties with filming the pilot of Showtime's upcoming City on the Hill, a drama produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, about "Operation Ceasefire," a 1990s criminal justice campaign in Boston aimed at ending youth gun violence. Kevin Bacon stars as a corrupt FBI agent, and Caruso played his daughter. (Ultimately, she had to return to Beetlejuice and hand off the role to be recast. But not before getting to know Bacon and his wife Kyra Sedgwick, who Caruso describes as #RelationshipGoals: "They're so sweet together on Instagram. I always look at it, and it's really cute.")

So for now the focus is Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice. It requires—no, demands—a lot of attention. "It's big and bright and crazy, really raunchy and super wild," says Caruso. For years, stories have circulated about all the young actresses that turned down the role of Lydia Deetz before Winona Ryder took it—allegedly the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Molly Ringwald, and Brooke Shields. But for Caruso, throwing herself into the role of a girl who overcomes a sense of alienation was a no-brainer. "It's a wild ride, but it ends on an important message for young audiences," she says. "It's exciting to think I'm putting something out into the world that's good. It's an easy choice to make."