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American Psycho The Musical

Exciting musicalization of the controversial book by Brett Easton Ellis about an investment banker who moonlights as a serial killer starring Benjamin Walker.

Benjamin Walker and the cast of “American Psycho The Musical” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Benjamin Walker and the cast of “American Psycho The Musical” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Does he or doesn’t he? Is high-powered investment banker Patrick Bateman a serial killer by night? You’ll just have to see American Psycho The Musical and find out for yourself. Based on the controversial 1991 Brett Easton Ellis novel which led to the equally controversial 2000 movie, this American Psycho, score by Duncan Sheik, (Tony Award for Spring Awakening) and book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (the overhauled Superman: Turn Off the Dark, Good Boys and True, etc.), has been given a sensational high-concept production by Rupert Goold (King Charles III, Enron, Macbeth with Patrick Stewart). The story of a Wall Street investment banker who moonlights as a serial killer by night is a high-camp satire of the conspicuous consumption, greed and excesses of the late 1980’s, a time now known as the Reagan Era. As anti-hero Patrick Bateman, charismatic Benjamin Walker returns to Broadway for the first time since his breakout performance in Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.

Stylish and stylized, the stage design includes Es Devlin’s white box of a set which transforms instantaneously into apartments, offices, restaurants, discos, a health club, a locker room, and the beach in the Hamptons. Color-coordinated with lighting by Justin Townsend and costumes by Katrina Lindsay, the stage picture is often black and white with a touch of red, a tie, the men’s suspenders, a leopard, a bikini, or eventually splashes of blood. Townsend’s lights turn the set blue, green or red. The spectacular ever-changing video design by Finn Ross includes abstracts, cartoons, cityscapes, computer generated designs. Initially the main characters all in black, but as the story spins out of control other colors are added. And for eye candy, there are the hardbodied members of the cast with physiques to die for, with the men with enviable abs often in their shorts.

Anna Eilensfeld, Ericka Hunter, Heléne Yorke, Morgan Weed, Kystina Alabado and Holly James in a scene from “American Psycho” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Anna Eilensfeld, Ericka Hunter, Heléne Yorke, Morgan Weed, Kystina Alabado and Holly James in a scene from “American Psycho” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Aguirre-Sacasa’s book remains extremely faithful to the original novel, though it eliminates the more graphic violence. When we first meet Patrick, like a rock star he appears from a silver chamber, an upright tanning bed, in which he is revealed in only his tighty-whities. The perfect specimen and an idol for his peers, he is at the peak of physical superiority. Obsessed by fashionable products, he lists for us for the items he uses for face and body as well as every article of his designer clothing. A total narcissist, he is always checking his appearance – even when he is having sex. When he reaches his Wall Street office, he is confronted with the shark tank: friends and colleagues including Tim Price, his best friend (an arrogant Theo Stockman), dorky Luis Carruthers (Jordan Dean making it clear why the others make fun of him), his arch rival Paul Owen (a suitably obnoxious Drew Moerlein), as well as his innocent secretary Jean (a level-headed and sweet Jennifer Damiano).

On their way to a power lunch, the one-upmanship for today is who has the best business card. However, for all his money, good looks and privileges, Patrick is beset by self-doubts which he reveals to us: “Paul Owen’s business card is nicer than mine. He can get reservations at Dorsia, and I can’t. He landed the Fisher account, and I didn’t. I am twenty-six years old, and what, what do I have?” This is when he makes his unspoken decision to do something about Paul. There are people that the world might do better without, he believes. Whether or not Patrick is a psychopath, he certainly is a sociopath who has no feelings except disgust for other people. Is this existential depression or an allegory of the 1980’s? The verdict is still out.

At the Christmas party, we meet his pretentious, haughty and disdainful girlfriend Evelyn (the hilariously snooty Heléne Yorke) as well as Patrick’s mistress, the stoned Courtney (a suitably strung out Morgan Weed). Also there are his heavily medicated mother (Tony Award winner Alice Ripley, given little to do) and his younger brother Sean (a smug Jason Hite), better known from Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction. This is a world of surfaces and materialism. What is important in Patrick’s milieu are designer names, status symbols, chic restaurants, trendy health clubs, consumer products, name dropping, and being seen at all the right places. His favorite book is Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal. Empty and devoid of feeling, Patrick and his associates believe that they are “Masters of the Universe” (another eighties phrase) and their materialism and their hedonism is what fills their time. This story of unsympathetic though magnetic people is leavened with pitch-black comedy and the satire works on several levels.

Morgan Weed, Alex Michael Stoll, Benjamin Walker, Dave Thomas Brown, Jordan Dean and Heléne Yorke in a scene from “American Psycho” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Morgan Weed, Alex Michael Stoll, Benjamin Walker, Dave Thomas Brown, Jordan Dean and Heléne Yorke in a scene from “American Psycho” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

The perceived misogyny of the novel is lessened by the comedy, the fact that the men aren’t much better than the women, and Goold’s fast-moving production which leaves not a minute to think about the events on stage. Unlike the book and the movie, here mainly Patrick’s murders are either suggested or mentioned in passing. In a cut-throat world, it is either eat or be eaten. Patrick may be killing prostitutes and homeless men in his spare time, but the events on stage are hypnotic.

In the show, the eighties reign supreme. Sheik’s pulsating electro-pop score is enhanced by five iconic songs from the period first sung by Tears for Fears (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”), New Order, Phil Collins, Huey Lewis and the News, and The Human League, including two used in the movie (“True Faith” and “Hip to Be Square.”) Sheik’s witty lyrics define the era: “Selling Out,” “You Are What You Wear,” “Killing Time,” “Not a Common Man,” “This Is Not an Exit.” He cleverly rhymes “Mahi Mahi” with “Isaac Mizrahi,” and “ironic” with “Manolo Blahnik.” Lynne Page’s dazzling choreography suggests both aerobics and disco of its era.

The content of American Psycho The Musical may put some people off, though it ultimately has a very moral message. The exciting production values make this a very sophisticated entertainment, and Benjamin Walker adds another feather to his metaphorical hat with his performance as Patrick Bateman. However, don’t go if you are squeamish, prudish or easily disturbed. It won’t be for you.

American Psycho The Musical (through  June 5, 2016)

The Almeida and Headlong Production

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call Telecharge at 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.AmericanPsychoTheMusical.com

Running time: two hours and 40 minutes including one intermission

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (425 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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