American Psycho, the slick new musical treatment of Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel of the same name serves two purposes: to recall the excessive greed which dominated the eighties, and to evoke a painful realization that not much has changed when it comes to our continued obsession and appreciation of all things material. Substance be damned; we want it all, and we want it now! Take, for instance, the complaint fielded by the house manager of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater during a preview performance of the show; A lady seated in the front was unexpectedly splashed by fake stage blood, which landed on her cashmere scarf and Louis Vuitton bag—Oh! The irony! Not to mention our incessant addiction to Amazon prime. Why wait for our goods for two weeks when we can get it in a single day? Instant gratification is the current cocaine.
American Psycho: The Musical, tells the story of Patrick Bateman (Benjamin Walker), a 26 year old Wall Street executive with a perfect physique, vapid friends, a secretary named Jean (Jennifer Damiano), who is desperately in love with him, and a pushy, irritating girlfriend named Evelyn (Helene Yorke). Consumed by commercialism and superficiality, Bateman axes his colleague Paul Owen (Drew Moerlein) to death—or does he? Whether or not Bateman kills Owen and other victims is speculative. Critics and readers of the original source material have debated whether the slaughter actually happens or exists only in his mind. Nonetheless, the lesson we are supposed to learn here is that excessive consumerism exists only to distract us from human and spiritual meaning- Buddhism beats Burberry if you will.
Undoubtedly, the satire teaches important lessons. Yet Rupert Goold’s production, with a book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik seems to muddy its message with so many dated technological and pop references. When Bateman brags about his Walkman by Sony, his 33 inch Toshiba television, and a VCR recording set to tape Sally Jessy Raphael, the message is lost and we instead giggle at how cutting edge we once were. Somehow, the moral lesson is diluted.
This is not to say, however, that there isn’t much to like in the show. For starters, Walker is turning out a phenomenal performance here. His chilling, vacant stares create a haven of empathy in spite of his psychotic persuasion. Damiano’s beautiful voice and gentle kindness is also something to behold as she sings of unrequited love and yearning. Tony winner Alice Ripley, while sorely underutilized, is clearly having a ball with her trio of characters including a Russian émigré, Svetlana, and Bateman’s mother.
Duncan Sheik’s score lacks the depth and musicality of his earlier work, Spring Awakening but combined with Es Devlin’s Scenic work and Justin Townsend’s lighting, a stylish world of eighties electro-pop comes to life in thrilling vignettes. Were the show trimmed by about 45 minutes, it would prove leaner and more intense. Instead, much of the momentum is lost in songs and scenes that do little to propel the action forward.
It’s unlikely that we’ll have any epiphanies once the curtain falls. We’ll still want what we want and will get it when we want it, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that when all is said and done, our “stuff” will fade to dross.
American Psycho: The Musical is now playing on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater (West 45th between 8th and Broadway). For tickets and information, visit the box office or : http://americanpsychothemusical.com