Hayes Theatre, May 16
Were the dog-eat-dog world of Wall Street a mathematical series, its logical conclusion would be American Psycho. Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel – among the most misunderstood in history – prophetically suggested that if greed, sexism, hedonism and narcissism go unchecked, they will spawn mutants incapable of empathy. Ellis just chose to house his satirical social commentary in the darkest room in our imaginations.
Following Mary Harron’s memorable 2000 film of the novel, this innovative stage musical emerged in 2013, penned by Roberto Aguirre-Sarcasa (book) and Duncan Sheik (music and lyrics). At a stroke it makes most musicals seem blunt-edged, aided by this startling production from director Alexander Berlage, starring Benjamin Gerrard as the psychopathic Patrick Bateman.
The novel’s straight-faced tone and graphic violence and sex was massaged into more obviously amusing satire in the film, and the musical follows this lead, dealing in implied gore rather than rivers of red. Sweeney Todd seems civilised compared with Bateman, however, in that his victims are cleanly killed and then cooked before being devoured. Bateman likes to torture and terrify before the kill – and then gnaw them raw. It brings him a little peace, you see, in the brutal world of mergers and acquisitions.
In Gerrard’s dazzling performance we see both the stylish charismatic whom Bateman’s friends enjoy, and the psychopath constantly lurking in his shadow. The problem with this version of the character is not performance-related: it is having no answer to the novel’s extraordinary unravelling of the first-person narration. The final song, This Is Not an Exit attempts to do that, with Bateman entering the audience to watch the closing scene from the outside. But it is framed as self-justification, and doesn’t catch the disquieting shift in tone that Ellis achieves in his non-resolution.
Gerrard’s performance shares star status with the design, choreography, direction and lighting. The production’s visual brilliance will have your eyes out on stalks more than any chain-sawed bodies could do. Isabel Hudson uses a revolve to recreate the hustling lives of Manhattan’s young, rich and predatory in 1987, while mirrored walls (like modern social media) reflect the pandemic narcissism.
The writers could have made more of the humour potential of Bateman’s self-concept as a music connoisseur, given his mostly dire taste. Nonetheless the incorporation of songs by the likes of Phil Collins and Huey Lewis and the News are necessary evils that are made to work well. Sheik’s original music, tweaked for this production by Andrew Worboys, is mostly doofy electronica played so loudly as rearrange your entrails; so loudly, more pertinently, as to make many of the lyrics unintelligible – which is hardly smart.
Indeed this would be an unreserved five-star review were it not for that fact, for the lame scene with Tom Cruise as a character, and for one truly appalling Sheik song sung by Jean (Loren Hunter), Bateman’s secretary. Called A Girl Before, this overwrought ballad is as out of place as chocolate on a barbecue.
Amid an exceptional cast of 11, Amy Hack offers an entertaining turn as Bateman’s troubled, Anna Wintour-like mother. The dancing is machete-sharp, with Yvette Lee’s choreography exploiting the revolve to the full, amplified at every turn by Berlage’s own lighting. The effect is often reminiscent of music videos, including during a vivid series of beachside tableaux set in the Hamptons. Mason Browne’s costumes, meanwhile evoke a world in which clothes – like cocaine, champagne and restaurants – are signifiers of success. They’re just not enough for Bateman.
Until June 9.