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'American Pyscho' - A Gory Return to the Go-Go 1980s

Benjamin Walker and the company of American Psycho
(©Jeremy Daniel)

Gory, funny, gorgeous, over-the-top, and a little confused, Duncan Sheik and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's musical version of Bret Easton Ellis' novel American Psycho has arrived on Broadway, opening last night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

The tuner boasts a catchy synth-pop score from Sheik that beautifully brings back the soundscape of the 1980s (and fuses perfectly with some of the decade's big hits that are also used). Katrina Lindsay also provides dazzling costumes that make much of the production look as if oversized issues of GQ and Vogue from the period have exploded on the stage. The result? American Pyscho transports audiences back to the go-go 80s, when Ronald Reagan was president and in many circles greed was good.

Ellis' novel sought to satirize the excesses the author had witnessed by bringing one Patrick Bateman (impressively played here by Benjamin Walker) to life. By day Patrick lives a controlled and controlling life on Wall Street working in "mergers and acquisitions." When not at the office, his business is "murders and executions." The novel—curiously, fascinatingly, and chillingly—managed to make Patrick's duality all one side of the same coin. Whether desperately clutching for the newest gadget or dashing to the trendiest new restaurant or slashing away at a victim, Patrick's life was bound up in conspicuous consumption.

To a certain extent Aguirre-Sacasa's book manages to capture the dichotomous tones of its source material. During the show's opening moments, as Patrick enumerates the designer labels he plans to wear for the day and details some of his prized possessions, the sense of affluent entitlement and greed cannot be mistaken. There are also chuckles of recognition about how fleeting some of it all is. He boasts about having a—gasp—30-inch television.

As the musical progresses and audiences meet his girlfriend and would-be fiancé Evelyn (hysterically played with upper-crust hauteur and dimness by Helene Yorke), she and her gal pals mix and match couture with haute cuisine to both comic and creepy effect. As for Patrick and his pals, they're not much better, particularly as they sing and dance in frenzied reveries about their business cards.

The trouble is that as the musical progresses and Patrick's serial killing escalates, it almost becomes too cartoonish. When even Patrick recognizes that there might be something wrong, and he, Evelyn, and their entourage retreat to the Hamptons, director Rupert Goold and choreographer Lynne Page imagine it as a riff on the ubiquitous black-and-white Calvin Klein ads of the period. There is, however, one notable exception to the sort of high-gloss calming luxurious of this sequence; Patrick stands apart, Jones-ing for his life of carnage in the city.

Should audiences laugh or cringe (or both)? It's rough to tell, and that's one way in which the musical stumbles.

Also problematic are the ways in which Patrick's relationships with his mother (an underutilized Alice Ripley), executive assistant (shrewdly played by Jennifer Damiano), and business associates play out. They all fit into the musical as mere sidebars among the show's big moments. The notable exceptions are the repeated scenes between Patrick and Luis (amusingly played by Jordan Dean). Luis, a closeted gay man, has mistakenly interpreted Patrick's friendship and continually hits on his pal. The scenes, both sad and scary, are a pungent reminder of what life in corporate America was like not too long ago, in an age before Will and Grace.

Despite the unevenness of the book, the show never ceases to tantalize the eye as director, choreographer, scenic designer Es Devlin, lighting designer Justin Townsend, and video designer Finn Ross conspire to make sequence after sequence vibrate with the energy associated with some of the best and most compelling music videos of the time.

They make for an invigorating return to the ’80s, even as they serve up the tale's blood and guts. There's a duality in them that's impossible to turn away from.

---- Andy Propst

American Psycho plays at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (236 West 45th Street). For more information and tickets, visit: www.americanpsychothemusical.com.