Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Based on the Novel by Bret Easton Ellis)
Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik
Directed by Rupert Goold
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Change one letter in the phrase ‘American Psycho’ to form a phrase that describes the essence of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa/Duncan Sheik’s musical currently playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre – a phrase that handily explains why the musical garnered such praise on the London stage. The result: ‘American Psyche.” Brits love watching the foibles of their “children across the pond” play out on the stage – especially antics that arise from the specific character of the American experience. Certainly the final year of the 1980s provides a plethora of deadly sins and detritus from the opening of Pandora’s box/jar. Think “Enron” on steroids.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s book brims with the excesses of 1989 America and these come into sharp focus in the character of the protagonist Patrick Bateman (Benjamin Walker) and the coterie of mindless and vapid individuals he surrounds himself with including his girlfriend Evelyn Williams (Helene Yorke); his best friend Timothy Price (Theo Stockman); and his co-workers Craig McDermott (Alex Michael Stoll), David Van Patten (Dave Thomas Brown), and Luis Carruthers (Jordan Dean).
Mergers and acquisitions analyst Patrick Bateman barely hangs on to reality and his coping mechanisms dwindle as his ego strength wanes. The “existential horror” that is America resonates with a similar horror that haunts his psyche resulting in a spate of “murders and executions” that appear to be more matters of fantasy than acts of reality. It is clear that what haunts the young, ripped, and handsome analyst is the same dystopian future facing the nation itself.
Were it not for Benjamin Walker’s formidable craft, “American Psycho” would be as much of a horror as Mr. Aguirre-Sacsa’s weak and shallow book – this musical is pure comic book and more anime than theatre. And Duncan Skeik’s music and lyrics are equally unsatisfactory. As syrupy as Patrick’s secretary Jean’s (Jennifer Damiano) love ballad “A Girl Before” is, under Ms. Damiano’s care, it far outshines the majority of the musical numbers.
Other exceptions are the numbers sung by Benjamin Walker who brings as much honesty to his character Patrick Bateman as possible. “Common Man,” “The End of an Island” (with Ms. Damiano), and “This Is Not an Exit” stand out in the list of some twenty-two musical numbers.
Like Hans Christian Andersen’s delusional Emperor, Patrick Bateman is depicted most of the time in some state of near-nudity. And although Benjamin Walker pulls that task off well, it does not fully justify the overuse of that trope that is meant to highlight the ignorance, incompetence, and boorishness of contemporary American society.
“American Psycho” is worth the visit to see Mr. Walker’s electrifying performance – suited up or strutting around in bloodied underwear in the second act’s extended “dream” sequence – and to allow his Patrick Bateman to rattle the recesses of the American psyche within and outside the theatre.