American Psycho: The Musical
Patrick Bateman is a successful Wall Street banker who supplements his income from mergers and acquisitions with murders and executions... also singing. Based on the 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis.
Opening April 21st at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
Music and Lyrics: Duncan Sheik
Book: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman
Drew Moerlein as Paul Owen
Jennifer Damiano as Jean
Heléne Yorke as Evelyn Williams
Alice Ripley as Patrick's Mother/Mrs. Wolfe/Svetlana
Jordan Dean as Luis Carruthers
Dave Thomas Brown as David Van Patten
Jason Hite as Sean Bateman/Security Guard/Dorsia Host
Krystina Alabado as Vanden
Theo Stockman as Tim Price
Morgan Weed as Courtney Lawrence
Alex Michael Stoll as Craig McDermott/ATM/Tom Cruise
Anna Eilinsfeld as Victoria/Hardbody Bartender
Holly James as Christine/Hardbody Waitress/Hardbody Trainer
Keith Randolph Smith as Detective Donald Kimball
There is an electric hum playing over the theater speakers as people shuffle to their seats. The stage is set; it’s a stark white room with black Barcelona chairs set behind a glass wall. The hum grows louder as the house lights dim, fog begins to flood the stage, and two sets of hands press up against the glass before the lights cut off and a scream pierces the darkness. It’s all a very stylish opening scene for what ends up being two and a half hours of decadence, horror, and a surprising amount of comedy.
American Psycho: The Musical is the brain child of Tony and Grammy-winning musician and lyricist Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening), and playwright and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (The 2013 remake of Carrie and 2014 sequel of The Town That Dreaded Sundown). It’s not every day a horror musical comes to town, but when it does it could go one of two ways: Carrie or Sweeney Todd.
In the spring of 1988 Broadway saw the opening of Carrie: The Musical. It played 16 previews before opening night and ran for just five performances after that. It’s considered the most expensive Broadway flop in history. Compare that to the original run of Sweeney Todd which ran for 19 previews, 557 performances, spawned a London production, a Broadway revival in 1989, a London revival in 1993, another in 2004 which led to another Broadway revival in 2005. Oh, there was also a small independent film version of it with Johnny Depp and two more London revivals.
Unlike Carrie and Sweeney, however, American Psycho has a much more unconventional presentation that could translate very well for fans of the original source material.
Based on the controversial 1991 novel by Brett Easton Ellis (and a 2000 film starring Christian Bale) American Psycho tells the story of Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street investment banker living in New York in the late 80’s, who seeks solace for his vapid lifestyle of high-end clothing, cocaine, and night clubs in slaughtering hookers, gay men, and homeless people.
The music is dark, thumping, electronic-inspired original songs mixed with a few covers of classic 80’s hits like “In the Air Tonight” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” The bleak, inhuman sounds of the electronic music only compliments the soulless nature of Patrick Bateman. Like the music for Sheik’s Tony-winning musical Spring Awakening the music compliments the world.
This time around, Patrick Bateman is played by Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and he manages to bring more humor to the role than Bale was able to conjure up, which, oddly enough, works very well in the musical adaptation.
The opening scenes drop you into Bateman’s world of decadence, and it takes a bit for the show to find its footing. While the song “Selling Out” is one of the more memorable and catchy tunes in the show, it also doesn’t seem to fit in with the others. In “Cards” the iconic business card dick-measuring contest has turned into a three minute joke including eye-rolling lyrics like “oh baby, baby, you’re such a card/you make it look oh so easy when I know it’s fucking hard,” and “how I love your surfaces/how I love your type.”
It isn’t until the fifth musical number, “You Are What You Wear,” do we realize the tone the musical is going for. Yes, it’s a horror/thriller musical, but it also clings hard to the novel’s satirical roots. Where the male company sing about business cards, “You Are What You Wear” finds the women singing about matching their outfits to the food at a dinner party (“I want blackened charred mahi-mahi/it works so well with Isaac Mizrahi”). Where the film focused more on the horror and black humor of the novel, the musical goes for the jugular, ramping up the ridiculous humor to reflect the heightened state if a musical.
There’s even an extended Christmas party scene where the revolving catwalk on set brings chorus members in and out of the wings after Patrick has done entirely too many drugs mixed with copious amounts of alcohol. As the scene continues and Patrick’s rage increases the frozen chorus members poses begin to get more violent and outrageous. Another aspect of the set design that works surprisingly well are the projections.
Where most projections in Broadway are used as a flashy labor and money-saving set design, in American Psycho it makes thematic sense. The bright colors, different uses of catwalks, and bottom lit props reflect the 80’s era without looking purposefully dated or hokey. Meanwhile the blood splatter projections serve to make the “real” bloody moments even more shocking. (Not to mention it’s hard to do choreography with a half-inch of red corn syrup spreading across the floor).
It is unfortunate, however, that there seems to be marketing technique to get people to buy front row tickets (or the American Psycho merchandised rain coats for sale at the apparel counter) in hopes that they will be splattered with gore. Theatre management released a statement that a woman had a drop of blood on her cashmere scarf. I don’t think there really is a woman with blood on her scarf (though if it is she could be a killer herself).
There is no splatter zone. There are two scenes that involve real blood and neither scene would it be possible for an audience member to be splashed. If you buy tickets in the front few rows hoping to come away with a splattered white souvenir shirt you will be disappointed.
The lack of a splatter zone isn’t a bad thing. Where Evil Dead: The Musical is a straight up parody and gallons of fake blood being poured on the audience is part of the experience, that isn’t the purpose of American Psycho. The spare use of “real” blood (as opposed to projection) is a conscious decision to make the scenes involving it more horrifying. During one scene there was an audible groan of disturbance from the audience as the blood was used.
There’s also something to be said about the one person who does have blood splattered on him. The lead, Benjamin Walker, manages to perform most of the second act not only covered in blood, but also wearing not much more than a pair of tighty-whities. He’s doing this eight shows a week, by the way.
Heléne Yorke originates the Broadway role of Patrick’s fiancé Evelyn and she manages to steal every scene she’s in. While Reese Witherspoon played her relatively straight in the film, Yorke just seems to be enjoying every moment she’s on stage. As Patrick’s body count goes up and the show gets darker and more blood-soaked it’s Evelyn who is the only bit of comedy left in Patrick’s prostitute-slaughtering world.
Meanwhile, Tony-winning actress Alice Ripley, who won a Tony for her role as a suburban mother struggling with bipolar disorder, is underutilized as Patrick’s mother as well as two other small roles. There are no real moments for Ripley to shine and show her range as her scenes are kept short.
Although the lyrics aren’t going to win Sheik another Tony Award any time soon American Psycho is still a fun time, and when you’re dropping a couple hundred dollars for tickets, that’s all that matters. The show is still in previews until opening night on April 21st so they still have time to change and tweak the show, but the way it’s currently performed is sure enough to please fans of both the movie and the book. Whether the translation works as well for those who are unfamiliar with the source material remains to be seen.
For now… I have to return some videotapes.
A book that adapts the humor as well as the dark violence from its source material.
Talented, and very funny, cast.
Music that perfectly matches the tone of the era and the soulless nature of the show's lead.
Lyrics that are just as shallow as the characters.