American Psycho continues at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, New York.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
Benjamin Walker turns in such a spectacular performance in American Psycho it’s a shame that the character he is playing doesn’t have a modicum of likeability. It would make sitting through this impressive but repellant musical less uncomfortable.
Walker portrays Patrick Bateman, a Wall Streeter caught up in the horribly hedonistic, materialistic milieu we are led to believe consumed these money-making men in the late 1980s. He lunches in expensive eateries, discussing designer-name wardrobe with his pals, and spends nights at drug-drenched discos, moving from one gal and one stimulant to the next.
Occasionally, he does seem to tend to business, mainly by envying a colleague who handles a more lucrative account and can score reservations at the hottest restaurant in town. Bateman also has a stylish girlfriend. But he is feeling lost in all this. He needs something more, either to feel alive or assuage his submerged anger. So, he goes around killing people: ladies of the night and elsewhere, street bums and even the aforesaid colleague.
The musical is based on the hackle-raising 1991 novel by the young Bret Easton Ellis, which became a film in 2000 starring Christian Bale. And if the plot sounds even more freshly familiar, it’s because the musical, with its book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and score by Duncan Sheik, had its world premiere in London’s Almeida Theatre some two and a half years ago, with Matt Smith assaying Bateman. It has now come to Broadway, with much of the creative team intact, headed by director Rupert Goold and choreographer Lynne Page.
Sheik’s electronic-infused music offsetting his brash, probing lyrics finds the perfect complement in Page’s robotic disco-tinged dance movements, which pulsate through much of the show. It all adds up to a chic, soulless world, further realised in Es Devlin’s high-tech sets that vibrate with the flickering computer-like imagery of Finn Ross’ video design and Justin Townsend’s lighting. A nod is also due Katrina Lindsay’s costumes, revelling in the designer excesses of the period.
Walker provides a magnetic centre for these brilliantly theatrical elements, piled on relentlessly in Goold’s staging. There’s a touch of bewildered innocence occasionally suggested in Walker’s smug but youthful demeanour befitting the character’s stated age of 26. Nevertheless, you don’t like Bateman, even as you have to watch him. He can be funny for a while and then turn scary, really scary, all the while singing and dancing as well.
Although we see Bateman’s murderous side at work, even in one big production number, the question eventually arises as to whether all these killings are psychotic fantasy. Still, the gore is pervasive, and Walker himself spends a lot of time with it covering his body, clothed merely in his skivvies. It’s not only a magnetic turn, but a heroic one.
Surrounding Walker are a complement of rather broadly drawn folks, who help sharpen the show’s satirical edge. Helene Yorke as Bateman’s girlfriend Evelyn and Morgan Weed as Evelyn’s gal pal Courtney have a grand time over-pronouncing their vowels in top-drawer fashion, as does Drew Moerlein playing Bateman’s more successful co-worker. Also notable in the cast are Alice Ripley as Bateman’s mother and Keith Randolph Smith as the questioning detective who eventually shows up in such goings-on.
The one character who might inspire some empathy is Bateman’s devoted secretary, Jean. She’s tenderly enacted by Jennifer Damiano, but her dedication-cum-crush concerning her boss never becomes more than single note.
American Psycho bristles with a lot of courageous theatrics. It’s part satire, part Grand Guignol, but it could also use a dollop or two of humanity in its blood-splattered landscape. Even the bloody barber of Fleet Street had a compelling back story.
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