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“American Psycho-The Musical”

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

 

“American Psycho-The Musical,” with a book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and a score by Duncan Sheik, is a high tech, frequently unpleasant, but, ultimately, worthwhile new musical.  Currently running at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway, this show is based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, and there is also a cult film version starring Christian Bale.  What “American Psycho” definitely has going for it is that it looks quite unlike anything else Broadway has seen: the show is ultra-stylish, using eye-popping video design by Finn Ross, who works wonderfully well with lighting designer Justin Townsend and sound designer Dan Moses Shreier.  This look is entirely appropriate for a musical set in New York City, in the 1980s.

And, of course, it must be mentioned that Benjamin Walker gives a herculean performance in the title role, playing the character of Patrick Bateman, who works on Wall Street and, to put it mildly, has a penchant for killing people.  Indeed, Walker is onstage almost continually from beginning to end and we see the world through his eyes.  The score, by Duncan Sheik, is quite good, mixing in such popular 1980’s songs as “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “In the Air Tonight” seamlessly.  As noted, “American Psycho” can be (necessarily) unpleasant, but it possesses a twisted sort of humor that works for this show, and the overall effect of this production is quite stunning.

“American Psycho” was originally presented in London, starring “Doctor Who” star Matt Smith, but the director Rupert Goold and the creative team for the Broadway production are the same as they are were in London.  When the show begins, the audience immediately sees an almost antiseptic white apartment (splendidly designed by Es Devlin) that Patrick Bateman lives in and this character’s first words are how he categorically sees his life.  Walker has clearly spent a good deal of time at the gym to look as “ripped” as he does (he is often seen just wearing his underwear), but his performance is much more than just looks: this actor fully embodies his character and he manages to be both charming and sadistic, usually at the same time.

It is more than a bit unfortunate that the rest of the cast do not truly have the opportunity to make as strong of an impression as the leading man definitely does.  Playing three different roles, most especially the part of Patrick’s mother, the terrific Alice Ripley (a big favorite of mine) is sadly underused and is only given a short song to sing in the second act (she does, however, look like she is having a great time onstage).  Helene Yorke, as Patrick’s fiancé Evelyn, and especially Jennifer Damiano, as Patrick’s secretary, fare better, with Damiano sweetly singing the pretty ballad, “A Girl Before,” near the end of the show.  The remainder of the actors are mainly used as colleagues and friends and, ultimately, as the victims of Patrick’s killing sprees.

“American Psycho” feels almost revelatory in its ability to mesmerize the audience with its in-your-face, almost overwhelmingly technical look, and director Rupert Goold and his designers maintain this effect throughout the entire show.  The book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa possesses a sick sense of humor, and, unexpectedly, there are a number of laughs in this show. Duncan Sheik’s 1980s style score is a fine follow-up to his Tony Award winning score for “Spring Awakening” and I am hoping that the Broadway production of “American Psycho” will receive a cast recording (there is already a London cast recording available).

Still, it must be said that there is more than a bit of bloodshed in “American Psycho” and, at times, one may feel the need to look away; indeed, this musical is not for the squeamish.  But this show manages a vice-like grip on its audience and the overall effect of “American Psycho,” with its combination of high tech wizardry and Benjamin Walker giving a marathon-like performance, is a real wallop.  It is sad news that “American Psycho” closes tomorrow at the Gerald Schonenfeld Theatre, because of mixed reviews and a lack of Tony Award nominations.  This musical definitely deserved better.

“American Psycho” continues performances at the Gerald Schonenfeld Theatre on Broadway through Sunday, June 5, 2016.  Tickets for the final shows can be bought by going to www.Telecharge.com or calling 212-239-6200.

Top photo: Benjamin Walker and cast.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel

 

 

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