In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the Broadway transfer of American Psycho: The Musical. Here’s an excerpt.
* * *
Twenty-five years ago, Bret Easton Ellis published a novel about a Wall Street yuppie who killed and dismembered women after hours. “American Psycho” purported to be a satire, but the critics either didn’t get the point or (far more likely) failed to find it funny, and the book got nothing but bad reviews. Nowadays, though, serial murder is all the rage, and “American Psycho: The Musical” has just arrived on Broadway after a critically acclaimed, commercially successful London run. Will it do as well with the New York tourist trade? Beats me, but if it does, then you really can fool some of the people all of the time: “American Psycho” is slick, sleek and empty, a one-joke show that drowns its message, such as it is, in red sauce and fake emotion.
The premise of the novel is that Patrick Bateman, Mr. Ellis’ businessman-butcher, is the Reagan Era incarnate, a soulless materialist who loves only the luxury objects he owns, all of which he identifies by brand name whenever he has occasion to mention them. (You can imagine how old this gets over 399 pages.) The joke is that being soulless, he has no taste, and determines the value of his luxury objects exclusively by what they cost. We are meant to sneer when he describes Whitney Houston as “the most exciting and original black jazz voice of her generation,” which I suppose is the aesthetic equivalent of virtue signaling….
How to turn so unpromising a piece of source material into a Broadway musical? It’s not hard, really. The book sticks fairly faithfully to Mr. Ellis’ original ground plan. Es Devlin’s projection-intensive minimalist sets are 100% white, silver and gray, and Duncan Sheik, lately of “Spring Awakening,” has written a score consisting almost exclusively of faux-’80s technopop songs with parodistic lyrics (“We look expensive/But we’re apprehensive”) that Lynne Page has choreographed in faultless dance-floor style….
All this is supervised by Rupert Goold, the director, with a comparably gelid visual precision that offsets—up to a point—the absence of dramatic content. Not for long, though: I started sneaking looks at my watch a half-hour into “American Psycho,” which was roughly when Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Mr. Sheik, doubtless having realized early on that you have to put some emotion into a full-length musical in order to hold the audience’s attention, started watering down the novel. For it turns out that feelings have been transplanted into “American Psycho”: Not only does Bateman develop an incapacitating case of existential dread, but Jean (Jennifer Damiano), his secretary, becomes a wistful girl-next-door type who falls hard for her boss, going so far as to sing a namby-pamby ballad in which she confesses all…
* * *
Read the whole thing here.
“Selling Out,” the opening number from American Psycho, as performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: