American Psycho, One Bloody Bloody Musical
The first few moments of American Psycho, The Musical, hits you like a ton of bricks, in just the perfect kind of theatrical way, and sets us up for the kind of show I was hoping for. Something that only theatre can give us. Some fresh blood, so to speak. Something the film or the book just couldn’t. This show, directed by Rupert Goold, wasn’t going to be about ‘pretty’ (cause if you want pretty, you can go see She Loves Me over at Studio 54), but, it would be hard hitting and shocking, musically intense and emotionally engaging. And for the most part, American Psycho is that; jagged and edgy, but sadly, the intensity is limited and it falters in its engagement.
Visually speaking, Benjamin Walker, half naked, sauntering around in his tighie whities, is a breathtaking sight, blood covered or not. Fully inhabiting the role of Patrick Bateman that Christian Bale so perfectly did in the 2000 film that this strange musical is based on, Walker has it down. Beautifully voiced in both rage and fear, he nails the different and opposing sides of Bateman. He’s got the cold edge and the combustable anger boiling up inside him and feeling like he will erupt into violence at any moment, plus he also manages to give us a bit of the scared child inside, the one that really just wants someone to see him and to love him.
Standing right there beside him, loving him, is Jean (an absolutely wonderful Jennifer Damiano of Next to Normal fame). When those two are together on stage, we can see a possibility, and a moment of emotional truth. Not surprising, the moments with Jean are the most touching and heartfelt, and their songs are the only songs that come across as emotionally deep and meaningful. My favorite is when the former Next to Normal mother and daughter team, a total wasted Alice Ripley as Bateman’s mother, and Damiano sing the beautiful duet ‘Nice Thought’. Seeing these characters singing about what could have been or maybe, what should have been, brought Bateman and his internal struggle to a more empathetic light. And to hear the gorgeous voice of Ripley, even if her big number is only a duet (and not a solo), made it all seem worth while. Why or why does Ripley not have a number all of her own…? Sad.
The music and songs are penetrating, loud, and harsh in a perfect 1980’s kind of way (Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik, Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) and in this lies the problem. The 1980’s of American Psycho fame was a superficial and disconnected time in our cultural and social existence, in possibly a similar way the 2010’s are turning out to be. And the music and lyrics followed that vision almost a little too closely. Too many songs were about the shallow and cruel moneyed world of the 80’s and possibly our decade as well. ‘You Are What You Wear’, ‘Hardbody’, and ‘Cards’ all felt like a shiny new object, similar to the line from Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, “this thing, this girl, this meat, is nothing…” , and it does feel a little like nothing but surface, with very little depth except the obvious. Strangely enough, at intermission, I felt like I was surrounded by Bateman bros and tight skirted Eveylns (his girlfriend, played by Helene Yorke), and wondered if this was part of the reason this musical even existed in this moment of time in the first place. History repeating itself, in one disconnected ‘iform’ or another.
Act two did little to elevate the tone, regardless of the shock and blood splattering effects. I will say Act one ends spectacularly. Shockingly wonderful. American Psycho does look amazing (a perfect and inventive Scenic Design by Es Devlino), graphic and violent, but alienated with little underneath. The whole production, for that matter, is designed in every level to perfection. The choreography by Lynne Page is sharp and angular, but with very little grace or beauty. It serves its purpose but at a cost. This is a relevant tale I guess, speaking to the similarly shallow culture sprouting up around New York City now in 2015, and at times I loved the critique and the irony, but as with sarcasm, it gets tiring after a time, and just leaves you as cold and isolated as the Wall Street bankers.