Wednesday, May 4, 2016

American Psycho @ The Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

2010: the announcement that Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial 1991 novel American Psycho was being developed into a musical was met with skepticism & a general "huh?" A dream team assembled: Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) signed on to compose, a book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa developed, and direction from Rupert Goold was set. A successful run in London with Matt Smith in the titular role provoked a Broadway run to go into works. And God are we happy it did.
American Psycho chronicles the life of Patrick Bateman, a yuppie investment banker by day and serial killer by night. Bateman, along with everyone else in his life, is the textbook definition of the late-80’s yuppie: obsessed with designers, the perfect business card, getting into the best restaurants, and of course, where to score the best coke. 

Upon entering the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, you’re immediately given a taste of Es Devlin and Justin Townsend’s Tony nominated set and lighting designs, respectively. A pristine, stark white apartment is framed by towering walls of video tapes, bright white lights shine across the stage, and a haunting, tonal pre-show music sets the scene. It’s striking, really. There’s something subliminally scary about the emptiness we see. The opening moment is shocking enough to grab the attention of the audience. For the next 2 hours and 40 minutes, amidst strobes, Finn Ross’ kinetic projections, and plenty of blood, you’re drawn just like rubberneckers on the highway. You can not look away. 

The musical pulls equally from its two source materials: the iconic sequences from Mary Harron’s 2000 film (because let’s face it, we were all waiting for Bateman to dance to Huey Lewis in his raincoat!) and Ellis' novel. The movie homages we know and love amongst plot points previously only seen in Ellis’ novel (like Bateman’s vacation to the Hamptons) are a very smart move; taking the best moments and bits of dialogue to form a cohesive story. Sheik’s all-electronic score is driving, thumping. It captures the essence of the decadent era it represents, with interludes of well-known 80’s pop tunes woven throughout seamlessly. Lynne Page’s choreography is oftentimes robotic, reminiscent of Thriller, and becomes increasingly animalistic as we witness Bateman’s swift spiral into complete madness. 

Benjamin Walker’s (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) portrayal of Patrick Bateman is calm and stoic. He is articulated and has a strong opinion on almost anything—those who disagree with him are unknowingly risking their lives. Walker plays Bateman so straight and serious, that we can’t help but find him humorous, so when he cracks, you shut up and realize just how damaged a being he is. Walker spends the majority of Act II half-naked and smeared in blood, convulsing from madness, yet we as an audience still side with him. He is subtle and engaging, an impressive combination for a leading actor. 

Drew Moerlein (in his Broadway debut) as Paul Owen is the antithesis of Bateman. He is charming, effortless, seemingly perfect…so naturally Bateman can’t stand him, and he must die. Heléne Yorke (Bullets Over Broadway) as Bateman’s fiancé Evelyn is wonderfully vapid in a scene-stealing performance. Yorke’s portrayal is over-the-top, hilarious. The effect on her voice is slightly Valley Girl, as she drones about having the correct number of people at a dinner party or wanting Annie Leibovitz to photograph her wedding. Tony winner Alice Ripley is severely underutilized, as a handful of characters in what is essentially a featured ensemble role. Nevertheless, she is delightful as Bateman’s mother who refuses to remove her sunglasses, and manages to slip in an attention-grabbing riff as a club-goer during the cover of Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight.” She seems misplaced solely because she really needed to be in a larger role. This woman deserves way more than having to wipe the blood off the stage with a towel!

 Other noteworthy performances come from Jennifer Damiano (Next to Normal) as Bateman’s secretary Jean, so sweet and pure, it’s both relieving and heartbreaking when Bateman decides doesn’t want to hurt her, literally and figuratively. Theo Stockman (American Idiot) as the smarmy, sometimes oily Timothy Price; and featured ensemble member Holly James (in her Broadway debut), who is so engaging it makes sense she’s the sole cast member to play both West End and Broadway. 

Despite our absolute love and verve for this new piece, it doesn’t come as a complete shock that American Psycho has been receiving mixed reactions. Goold’s direction makes the production self-aware and satirical, continually poking fun at itself. Sheik’s electro-pop score is so catchy, I’m not-so-patiently waiting for the Broadway Cast Recording. It is truly a production that has to be experienced live; the new Sweeney Todd for millennials. It is such a stylized, niche-market type product (think Reefer Madness Evil Dead the Musical / the beloved flop that was Carrie), perhaps stylized to the point of potentially not reaching a wide enough audience for an extended run. But if you're like us, and eat this type of theater up, it is a sight to behold.  

Review By: Kelcie Kosberg
Photos By: Jeremy Daniel

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