Although the Broadway buzz about “Hamilton” has not fully died down, there is a gaining momentum to the murmuring of the new wave of musicals opening in the next few weeks. “American Psycho,” located at the Gerald Schoenfeld and directed by Rupert Goold, is the most anticipated of these new works. The musical, based on the sensational novel by Bret Easton Ellis and the cult-favorite 2000 movie starring Christian Bale. This new musical with the book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and music & lyrics by Duncan Sheik originally opened in London and since its British opening, it has fascinated the public: how can there be a musical about a serial killer? Will there be blood everywhere? Will it be amazingly 1980’s? Will it be as creepy and bizarre as the film?
The answer to all of these question is ‘yes’. Somehow they did it. Somehow they made a piece of musical theater about a Wall Street executive in the late 1980s who was hyper-masculine, egocentric, misogynist, neurotic, and of course, a psychopathic serial killer. I don’t know how they did it.
I also don’t know if it totally works. At moments I loved it, at other times I felt confused and conflicted (though I do believe that is the point of the novel, the movie, and now, the musical).
What was quite clearly perfect, however, was the scenography: the set by Es Devlin, the costume design by Katrina Lindsay, and the video/projection design by Finn Ross were all impeccably captivating, beautiful, and evocative. The entirely white set (the apartment, the office, the restaurant, the gym, the bar, the laundry, the video store) was immaculate and was surprisingly chic, clean, and terrifying. In lieu of traditional lighting design, these walls (as well as the bodies of the actors) were often flooded with projections; creating a more dynamic and multidimensional space. The costumes were impressively cohesive. Although, there was a litany of pinstripe double-breasted suits, cocktail dresses, men’s short shorts, and long pencil skirts. As a whole, the costumes drew inspiration punk clubwear, 80’s fitness video fashion, Hampton’s prep, and housewife couture–all tastefully demarcated by boldly clear color palettes for differentiation and emphasis.
A show is much more than dramatic sets and beautiful costumes, though. The musical starred Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman (the titular psycho), Helene York as Evelyn Williams (his girlfriend), Jennifer Damiano as Jean (his personal assistant), and Drew Moerlein as Paul Owen (his rival). Also worth noting, somehow Alice Ripley slipped her way into this musical, giving a hilarious performance of the eccentric, sunglasses-wearing mother of Patrick. The leading women gave strong performances, despite the fact that their characters are hollow and somewhat underdeveloped. Walker, on the other hand, gave a performance that although fun and fascinating to watch, was not strong enough to carry such a strong show. He was onstage for practically every minute of the musical, yet he was not nuanced enough to ground the work. All reception of him is bound to be biased since anyone who has seen the movie is expecting the Patrick Bateman of Christian Bale–and (for better or worse), Walker’s Bateman is nothing like Bale’s.
He was, however, magnificently muscular, which was hard to miss since he was either shirtless or in only underwear for a majority of the production. This was also true for the male ensemble, whose abs, biceps, and chests got more stage time than their vocal cords. Although some tasteful partial nudity is usually welcome on the stage, especially in a play about vanity, this musical seemed to toe the line–potentially landing on the “excessive” side.
This musical was not perfect. Its score was slightly odd, very techno/electronica-inspired, and left the audience searching for high belted notes, dramatic ballads, fierce duets, or even strong songs that ended with a big note. Instead, we were given short, talk-sung pieces that had more dance breaks than lyrics. Although they were not catchy per se, they did work within the world of the musical.
All criticisms aside, the musical was incredibly enjoyable; quite frankly, it is one of the most enjoyable musicals to watch. The entire time you are filled with suspense, laughter, sympathy, dread, and terror–not exactly emotions you are used to feeling together, especially not during a Broadway musical. From the moment the show begins (the first moment was one of the most shocking moments of theater I’ve ever seen, so I won’t spoil it here) all theatrical expectations are thrown aside. This certainly is not the traditional Broadway musical; it may not be something more but it is certainly something different–something both beautiful and terrifying, a complete bloody mess that only “American Psycho” could pull off.