Through his iconic debut novel, Less Than Zero (1985), quickly followed by The Rules of Attraction (1987), US author, Brett Easton Ellis, spoke to a new generation of aspiring and beautiful, yet emotionally adrift, middle – class American youth.
His compositional style is slick, smart, and self – examining. Therefore, it is easy to comprehend why Easton Ellis is sometimes compared to On The Road’s Jack Kerouac or Catcher In The Rye’s J.D. Salinger.
With the publication of American Psycho in 1991, the book propelled Easton Ellis into a literary, marketing stratosphere. Jam – packed with lashings of explicit sex and gratuitous violence, in Australia, it was one of the first mainstream books to receive the controversial “R” certificate. If that wasn’t enough to fuel local publicity, the paperback could only be displayed sealed in clear plastic film.
In 2000, the book was turned into a blood – thirsty slasher starring Christian Bale. Critics were divided, torn between describing it as playful high – art or self – important, superficial trash. Considering the grimy subject matter, where a high – powered investment banker murders random street people, prostitutes and work colleagues for kicks, perhaps both parties were right.
Fresh from a sell – out season on London’s West End fronted by Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, is Broadway ready for this kind of show? After all, American Psycho’s lead is a modern day Jack The Ripper.
One needs only to look to similar television and motion picture by – product hits like Dexter and Warm Bodies for answers. By taking their logic into consideration, American Psycho – The Musical, is also brash, cynical, too school for school, and completely tongue – in – cheek.
Music and lyrics are by Spring Awakening’s Duncan Sheik. Drawing on the likes of The Style Council, Human League, and Genesis for inspiration, the composer has fashioned a pumping rock opera score, seamlessly fused with known pop tunes from the period including “In The Air Tonight” and “Don’t You Want Me”. Taking this route is a stroke of genius, allowing the prime target demographic to immediately connect with and relate to the show.
Roberto Aguirre – Sacasa witty book draws on Easton Ellis’ spare text for inspiration, but his words are strictly (and intentionally) played for laughs. Perhaps time and distance away from yuppie hedonism have allowed us to re-examine the period for its searing lack of substance.
Set piece musical highlights include “Morning Routine”, with viewers introduced to the main character and his power agenda, “Cards”, an alpha – dog free for all between the protagonist and his work rivals, and “You Are What You Wear”, where high – fashion labels and status become one.
Katrina Lindsay’s rich costume design, combined with hair, wigs and make – up from Campbell Young Associates, give American Psycho a pitch – perfect MTV version of mid – town Manhattan & Wall Street’s greed is good.
Here, big shoulder pads and even bigger hair reign supreme. Further, choreographer, Lynne Page, brings them to the fore with her asymmetric, robotic dance routines.
Set design (Es Devlin), lighting (Justin Townsend), and sound (Dan Moses Shreier) reinforce the show’s plastic fantastic vibe. Hard and angular, though the staging is white and stark, it never communicates anything less than an ultra – wealthy sensibility.
Veteran Broadway star, Bejamin Walker (last seen in the title role of Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson), gives Patrick Bateman, the necessary anti – hero status this show demands in order for it to work. Walker plays it hard yet vulnerable, both stepping in and out of the moment, not only to expand on the character, but to keep momentum and interest fluid. Looking and sounding not unlike 80s popster, Rick Astley, more than completes American Psycho’s mischievous picture.
Stand – out support comes from Helen Yorke (as Bateman’s egocentric partner, Evelyn Williams), Jennifer Damiano (as Jean, his faithful, lovelorn, personal assistant), Theo Stockman (smug as scene – stealing Timothy Price), and Drew Moerlein (as his doomed rival, Paul Owen). Next to Normal’s Alice Ripley makes the most of a brief yet key cameo appearance as Patrick’s mother, Mrs Bateman.
One astute audience member I spoke to felt that the story took place completely inside the main character’s head. Therefore, what we witnessed, was in fact, a total illusion. Bateman’s demonic rage was driven by a lack of respect from his immediate circle, projected and presented full force onto the stage. With this in mind, it is no surprise that this off – beat, experimental, yet accessible show earned and received a full standing ovation from preview audience.
Broadway is stronger and offers a diverse range of choices more than ever.
American Psycho is certainly not for everyone, a show which features copious amounts of fake blood and stylised, simulated sex. But if positive word of mouth following the Saturday matinee performance I watched is any indication, it deserves to become an audience favourite and an instant classic.