Review by Kathleen Campion
27 April 2016
Given the rafts of talent signed on to this project, it would have been a huge surprise if there were not a great deal to admire in the production—and there is. Rupert Goold directs the musical version of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel built on Duncan Sheik’s music and lyrics and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s book.
Goold and Sheik had a lot to overcome in the sense that the controversial book and film that preceded this production triggered the question: why would anyone make a musical out of that?
It takes some artful dodging to bring an audience to feel any connection with the anti-hero of the piece, Patrick Bateman (Benjamin Walker). He’s the embodiment of the overcompensated twenty-something investment banker we first met in the late 1980s, awash in coke and entitlement.
He is also a serial killer who staples young women to the floor to do worse. The victims, friends or strangers-for-hire, are just more of the commodities he consumes. Bateman has none of Sweeney Todd’s outrage to justify his wanton violence. He’s—well, he’s a psycho.
You may remember Walker as a more engaging, if also bloody, Andrew Jackson (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson). He sings and dances, struts and strips with distinction and precision. He is a marvel to watch.
In act one, he brags about the toys (his Sony 30-inch TV, his red Walkman), and the art on his wall, and his expensive wardrobe. He is clearly relying on his things to confirm his worth. The fact that they are passé to a 2016 audience draws titters as do all the dated references to the cool clubs (like Tunnel, where he snorts coke), and to his ritual of ordering absurdly intricate food at the restaurant of the moment (where you have to know the maitre d’ to get in).
The set is washed in the grey-blue light of a 1980s tv screen left on in an empty room. The stage is framed in an electronic margin that artfully fills with graphics and antic lights, messages, color changes, and tricks of depth perception. Inevitably, the black and white and grey are liberally splashed with blood.
On a sensual level, the first act of this flashy, noisy, throbbing show is relentless—shocking the senses, and leaving you wanting more. The choreography can be mesmerizing on the one hand, and almost too clever on the other. For example, there are several references to Les Mis early in the script; before intermission one of the dance numbers resolves in an arty 1815 French tableau. Later, slashing and shooting are incorporated into dance numbers; bodies fall and twitch but all in a unified piece.
The union of light and sound and movement in the iconic electronic blur of the late 1980s is powerful. It underscores the notion that the “moral” of the story is in the empty narcissism of the era. But, all of that artistry, while attractive and stimulating, overpromises, as there is no satisfying payoff.
Did self-absorption create a man so lacking in empathy that he murders profligately without remorse? Is he devil driven? Is he an anomaly that cannot be explained? Frankly, the last scene, the big finale, while beautifully executed, falls flat, as it is devoid of meaning.
American Psycho has more than second-act problems; it has what’s-the-point problems. Bateman’s last speech all but disclaims the preceding action. Did he kill or just fantasize? Is all the action internal monologue? Are we engaged in pure solipsism? (He actually asks that question so I looked it up for us. Solipsism is the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.)
You walk out shaking your head; what does all this come to?
"Though it is spattered with stage blood from beginning to end and features the sort of carnage associated with Eli Roth movies, “American Psycho” turns out to be one of those musicals that send your thoughts awandering, even as you watch them."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"With its wicked wit, catchy ear candy and sexy cast, 'American Psycho' gives you a killer buzz — for a while. Euphoria sinks once corpses pile up in this glossy new Broadway musical."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"A comic 'American Psycho' you can dance to? Somehow, it works."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"American Psycho is about an idea of a person doing an idea of very bad things, as seen from a safely stylish and ironic remove. Neither the violence nor the satire can cut very deep when its targets are so thin. For all its splatter, the show feels bloodless."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"The gloriously gory, sleek, over-the-top musical... is a darkly wonderful adaptation of the once-controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis."
Mark Kennedy for Associated Press
"Director Rupert Goold, composer Duncan Sheik and book writer Roberta Aguirre-Sacasa crank up the satirical volume on Bret Easton Ellis' cult novel in a musical with design to die for and a cool, period-appropriate electro-pop score. And as Patrick Bateman, the chiseled Benjamin Walker takes us on a riveting journey of existential ennui that bleeds into violence before bottoming out in anguish."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"Benjamin Walker (hands still dripping from 'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson') is one hunk of gorgeous ice sculpture as that homicidal narcissist Patrick Bateman, and director Rupert Goold serves up the greedy ’80s vibe with knife-edge tech design and razor-sharp musical choices."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
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