Sunday, May 8, 2016

American Psycho: A minimalist's guide to love and murder.

American Psycho is the latest entry in the sub-genre of serial-killer musicals.  I really wasn't planning on seeing this show but an interesting article in the Times inspired a ticket purchase. Based on the controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis, the idea of this show is ridiculous from the get go. So it's strange that it made for such an engaging experience.

The producers embraced the strangeness at every turn, starting with the set (designed by Es Devlin); a beautiful, minimalist white living space that created tension just with the knowledge that later, someone will have to get the blood out. And there is definitely blood, including a nifty trick with a clear scrim, but I won't ruin that surprise. The set does delightful tricks throughout the show. Like in the second act when it transforms into a pool in the Hamptons that is so lux, so sleek, so sexy that those of us who aren't in the one percent can only look on longingly.

Of course, the set isn't the only star.  From the moment Benjamin Walker emerges as Patrick Bateman from a tanning bed and wearing only a pair of tighty whities, he is captivating and creepy. For the rest of the show, no matter how much you want to look away, you can't.  And Benjamin wasn't even my favorite performer in the show.  That distinction goes to Helene Yorke as the impossibly "superior" Evelyn Williams. A highlight is her performance of "You Are What You Wear," a snobbish rant dripping with luxury.

You can't talk about the cast without acknowledging that these actors are quadruple threats.  They're all perfectly talented at the singing, the dancing, and the acting.  But they're all also surprisingly comfortable doing all that in little more than underwear and a pair of hand weights.  Oh sure, Broadway actors tend to have sleek, handsome bodies.  But these are bodies that require hours at the gym.  These are physiques that actors perfect over months in order to star in some summer superhero blockbuster.  The extra physical refinements (along with some clever sex scenes) add to the sexuality of this show which only serves to heighten the tension.

So what about the music?  This isn't your traditional musical.  For starters, the voices and instruments are so processed, it sometimes feels more like a concert from an 80s synth band than from a theater on 45th Street.  But for the most part, Duncan Sheik's songs are likable and fueled by emotions, many of those emotions inspiring un-comfortableness.  That's largely what makes the music work. Still, there are moments when the songs turn toward the mundane and detracts from the spectacle.

I saw five shows this trip to New York.  American Psycho was a last, reluctant ticket. Turns out, it was my favorite thing I saw.  Sure it's not for everyone; I won't be suggesting my mom and her friends enjoy the Saturday matinee. But if you for a musical, theatrical shock, this does the trick.

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