Reviewed by Dan Bacalzo ~
American Psycho deserves a far longer run than it is going to receive. The stylish and engaging new musical recently announced a Broadway closing date of June 5 at a reported $8.8 million dollar loss.
Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, the show is adapted by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (book) and Duncan Sheik (music and lyrics) and is set in New York City in 1989. The first time I encountered any of the songs from it was during Sheik’s 2013 cabaret engagement at 54 Below where he sang the haunting “This Is Not an Exit,” which I now know is the tuner’s closing number. I was thrilled to hear it then, and it’s even better when fully realized on a Broadway stage.
The charismatic Benjamin Walker stars as Patrick Bateman, a 27-year-old Wall Street banker with serial killer tendencies. Walker delivers a mesmerizing performance, exuding an eerie calm that masks the roiling rage and anxiety underneath. One of Sheik’s more telling lyrics is “We look expensive but we’re apprehensive,” from the early number, “Selling Out.” It perfectly captures the angst felt by Patrick and his cohort of lovers and friends who have money and fashion sense yet don’t seem to be very happy.
It is this emotional and thematic through line that forms the heart of the musical, as opposed to the trail of bodies that we see Patrick leaving in his wake. Patrick’s relationship with his girlfriend Evelyn (Helene Yorke) is more perfunctory than passionate, and he doesn’t seem to care much that he’s cheating on her with her best friend Courtney (Morgan Weed), and only appears mildly annoyed when Courtney breaks it off with him.
He has a greater intensity when rejecting the advances of Courtney’s boyfriend Luis (Jordan Dean), and in his obsessive jealousy of Paul Owen (Drew Moerlein). The duality of homoeroticism and homophobia is embedded into his encounters with both men, and it’s noteworthy that he slips Paul a date-rape drug as he brings him back to his apartment for a little fun. However, Patrick’s version of a good time has a lethal edge to it.
Those familiar with the 2000 movie adaptation of American Psycho will be pleased to note that the Huey Lewis and the News song “Hip to Be Square” is utilized in the musical in similar fashion to how it was employed in the film during Patrick and Paul’s bloody encounter. But it is jarring that it is the only song in the musical’s score that uses the pre-recorded vocals of the original artist, rather than having the actors sing it live.
There are other songs from the era that are interwoven into the musical. Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” New Order’s “True Faith,” Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” and The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” are all sung live by various cast members and help to evoke the time period—particularly during the scenes set in the downtown NYC dance club Tunnel.
American Psycho is probably best appreciated by those with a fondness for 80’s music and a techno-pop sound, which is what Sheik seeks to imitate in a number of his original songs. However, the score also has an infusion of lush melodies reminiscent of the composer’s previous Broadway outing, Spring Awakening.
Director Rupert Goold has given this production a disorienting feel, aided in his efforts by the choreography from Lynne Page and the excellent work by designers Katrina Lindsay (costumes), Es Devlin (set), and Justin Townsend (lighting) who combine their talents to create a vision of New York City towards the end of the millennium that has a fever dream quality.
The supporting players within the show are mostly rendered in caricatured fashion, particularly Yorke’s Evelyn who nevertheless amuses during the brand name-dropping tune “You Are What You Wear.” Tony Award winner Alice Ripley plays a trio of roles, the most substantial of which is Patrick’s mother, but doesn’t have much to build upon even in a frankly uninspired number in which Mrs. Bateman reminisces about Patrick’s childhood. Theo Stockman is appropriately smarmy as Patrick’s best friend Timothy Price, while Jennifer Damiano performs well as Patrick’s naïve secretary Jean.
Patrick Bateman is the only character to be developed in any depth during the show, and Walker nicely charts his loss of mental acuity. He often seems confused and disoriented, shell-shocked and vulnerable as he moves through his life without seeming to find anything to ground him in reality.