Sunday, May 15, 2016

AMERICAN PSYCHO, a statement about present day America or an excuse for gore and fun?

As the lights come up on AMERICAN PSYCHO, THE MUSICAL, standing center stage is Benjamin Walker, who introduces himself as Patrick Bateman. The time is the late 1980s, during the Wall Street boom. 

Walker, stands in a pair of tightie-whities, his zero-fat, sculpted body on display.  (To the pleasure of many, the exposure will continue through much of the show.)

Bateman explains that he can do 1000 stomach crunches, uses deep pore cleanser lotion, water activated shower gel, honey almond scrub and an exfoliating gel scrub, and never uses alcohol on his face as it dries it out.  He finishes his daily personal routine with a moisturizer and an anti-aging eye balm. 

Yes, this is Patrick Bateman, wealthy New York banker, whose life centers on high fashioned suits. (We are advised in a full-page ad in the show’s “Playbill”  that Walker’s are by MR PORTER, “the men’s style destination.” Ditto for all the male cast’s wardrobes.) 

Also important for Bateman is being able to get a reservation at the “in” restaurant.  He has to have the perfect business card and gets upset when a co-worker’s card is “better” than his (e.g., the cards of Paul Allen.  But, more of him later). 

He has an eye candy, wealthy fiancé whom he dislikes, but who fulfills the requirement of being the desirable image he requires. 

His luxury apartment has all the “right” furniture, art and accessories. 

Bateman is “blood, flesh, skin, hair, but has not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust.” 

He also is a man with  inexplicable needs, including a nightly bloodlust.  He’s a psycho, an American psycho.  Or, is he???

Bateman lures people, such as Paul Allen, to his apartment, downs a clear high-end plastic raincoat, and proceeds to decapitate Allen with an ax, produced by the “best” tool company.  Or, did he use an electric sword?  So many instruments of destruction are used to kill off prostitutes and errant others that, after a while, who can remember.

Oh, back to Paul Allen.  Bateman disposes of his body, goes to Paul’s apartment to stage a plausible exit scenario including recording a message on the answering machine (a machine of the highest quality, of course) indicating that the occupant has gone off to London.

After killing off his prey, while partying, Bateman, an espoused social liberal, raves that apartheid needs to end, that there needs to be a slowing down of the nuclear arms race, that terrorism has to stop, and world hunger must be eradicated.  Food and shelter must be provided for the homeless, racial discrimination needs to be ended and civil rights must be promoted, as well as gay rights and women’s equality.  And, of course, there must be promotion of general social concern and less materialism in young people.  Yes, less materialism.  All said with a straight face.  (Oh, come on now.)

Bateman explains that “there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our life styles are probably comparable:  I simply am not here.”

Bateman, in confessing his “crimes” to a detective in a recorded phone message, states, “All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. I still, though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed. Yet I am blameless. Each model of human behavior must be assumed to have some validity. Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do?”

The bottom line in this gory, yet illuminating musical, is whether Bateman, and his Wall Street ilk are an illusion, a delusion, an allegory, a fable, a metaphor, or a true story.  The writer doesn’t give an answer.  He only presents the tale.  He leaves it up to the audience to decide whether the horror is real, a figment of our imaginations, or a series of symbols of the decadence and value system of the American world in which we find ourselves.

The beating hard rock musical score is filled with symbolic songs such as, “Selling Out,” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “You Are What You Wear,” “True Faith,” “Hardbody,” “Hip to be Square,” “This Is Not an Exit.”

Benjamin Walker is the stereotype of the tall, dark, handsome, perfectly coiffed Broadway leading man.  He has a strong singing voice, moves with ease, and acts very convincingly.  He is spooky in his Bateman creation!

Kent State University graduate, Alice Ripley, portrays three roles…Svetlana, Mrs. Bateman and Mrs. Wolfe, but the very talented Tony Winner for NEXT TO NORMAL, is basically wasted in the roles.

Also in the cast is Anthony Sagarha, a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University’s Musical Theatre program which was recently recognized as the number two program of its kind in the country.

The cast, which appears to have been picked at tryouts at the New York Athletic Club, all have four-pack abs, some 6- or 8-packs, and surprisingly, can all perform with high level proficiency.  This is probably the most studly assembly of talented singers, dancers and actors ever brought together on a Broadway stage. 

Es Devlin’s ultra-modern scenic design is attitude correct and deserves kudos for the creative way it protects the audience from blood spatters during Bateman’s attack-mode escapades.  Finn Ross’s projections help add to the visual horror.

AMERICAN PSYCHO the musical originally opened in London in 2013, with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, based on Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial 1991 novel of the same name.  A 2000 cult film devised from the book starred Christian Bale.

Capsule judgment:  AMERICAN PSYCHO the musical, like the book and film, will incite waves of avid fans, as well as naysayers.  It’s going to get standing ovations and intermission walk-outs.  Whatever the attitude, it’s clear that Benjamin Walker’s portrayal of Bateman is top notch, the rocking score is enervating, and the multiple hard bodies on the stage are works of art in their own way. And, the question stands…is what goes on on the stage, fact or fiction, allegory or reality?  Is it a statement on America or just an excuse for gore and fun?
What:  AMERICAN PSYCHO, the musical
Where:  Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street
Run:  Open