Haven’t humans always been curious and voyeurs when it comes to violence and serial killers on film? Humans are curious about psychopaths such as Jack the Ripper, Hannibal Lechter and Ted Bundy, who continue to fascinate us in books, movies, TV and now a Broadway musical.
Women were in uproar when Brett Easton Ellis’s 3rd book, “American Psycho” a story about a self involved Wall Street investment banker, psychopath moonlighting as a serial killer, could only find happiness by dismembering women. It was very graphic, but, it was only a fictional story.
It took years for the hysteria to die down, but wouldn’t you know that Americans’ short attention span would welcome the Hollywood film version of “American Psycho” into their home less than a decade later? Who would have guessed that director Mary Harron’s highly-stylized set alongside an 80s soundtrack, and comically choreographed sequences would achieve cult status?
I never would have guessed that something as implausible as turning the 2000 film into a Broadway performance would transpire. Why would anyone be interested in watching a dancing and singing demon banker of Wall Street, whose only concern in life is his appearance? Then again, the success and longevity of Sweeney Todd, about a demon barber who hacks humans, and turns them into meat pies is testament to the inexplicable, unpredictable tastes of an audience.
As soon as American Psycho went into Broadway preview, my BFF, Mini and I jumped at the opportunity to witness what we hoped would be a horror fest melee with physically blessed cast, original 80s tunes interspersed with newly written songs and clever writing.
The night before the show, we dressed up as the characters in the original movie–because why the hell not? What else do we have to do on a Friday night? We briefly contemplated dressing up in character to the musical, but if I showed up with a bloody axe, NYPD would have arrested me in minutes. So instead, we put on our one-night only performance–with me–as Patrick Bateman, the protagonist–and Mini, as Patrick’s girlfriend, Evelyn, played by Reese Witherspoon in the 2000 movie version.
The next afternoon, we entered the theater to a sold-out performance. Within minutes of the curtain rising, I dug my nails into Mini’s arm.
The set design conceived by Es Devlin, who has designed sets for opera stages, film, tv and celebrities such as Kanye West, Lady Gaga and Lenny Kravitz, is highly stylized. One scene resembles a wealthy 80s bachelor’s NYC pad, another is transformed into a nightclub, and even a serene afternoon sunning in the Hamptons. The electronic-style score by Duncan Sheik was cleverly composed of original songs making myriad references to NYC stomping grounds such as “The Tunnel” nightclub, spliced with original songs by Huey Lewes and the News and The Human League. But it was the presence of protagonist Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman, who outshone the entire cast. His not-of-this-planet psychical attributes and stage presence made my heart nearly explode.
TAKE A PEEK.
We wondered how on earth some of the gory scenes in the original movie would be adapted for the Broadway stage without being too graphic. The set designers thoughtfully achieved this in the way of a transparent, plastic curtain/shield lowered onto the stage, Huey Lewis’s song “Hip to be Square” blaring in the background, while axe wielding Patrick Bateman dismembers his hapless victims. Blood splatter covered the stage and shield. Damn! I wore my knee high patent leather boots for nothing. Our adrenalin pumped even faster when Benjamin ran up and down the aisle half naked, shooting fake $100 bills from his toy rifle into the ogling crowd. Mini immediately shot from her seat, darting into the aisle to grab a fistful of fake money souvenirs.
For 80s and fashion aficionados, this musical made so many references to a decade of unapologetic excess, it made me nostalgic. Take for example the lyrics in the song “You Are What You Wear”:
…Chanel, Gaultier, or Giorgio Armani
Moschino, Alaia, or Norma Kamali
Should I rock
The Betsey Johnson
Or stick with classic
Comme des Garçon
In a certain kind of neighborhood
You might get away with Vivian Westwood
But by von Furstenberg we swear
It’s a wrap
You are what you wear…
It is songs like this, performed in a reincarnated version of 80s nightclub, “The Tunnel”, and one which I frequented dancing into the wee hours alongside club kids, left me nostalgic for the 80s. Clubs like those of yesteryear do not exist today.
Just like the movie, the musical depicted the superficiality, lust for wealth and one’s obsession to achieve perfection flawlessly. Brett Easton Ellis’s book was prescient in a few ways. One hilarious example is Patrick Bateman’s obsession with Donald Trump, the avatar of wealth and status in the 80s, who incites middle class, white, angry men to think that America can ever become ‘Great Again.’ Thank you Duncan Sheik for leaving all the Trump references, which made the audience chortle every time.
By the end of the show we were convinced that if people can applaud a singing and dancing serial killer banker on Broadway, this opens the door to produce other inconceivable musicals. How about producing a musical about the Ice Man? You know, the hitman from New Jersey, who killed at least 100 people for the Mob and has had 2 bios produced by HBO. Or maybe a singing and dancing Tony Soprano? The list is endless.
In the meantime, you will just have to take the plunge and witness what is Broadway’s newest, clever movie adaptation. I am not sure you will want to go out for a steak dinner afterward, but I promise, you won’t feel like buying an axe and clear raincoat.