Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is a nasty, tedious novel—forty pages of decent social commentary prolonged for almost four hundred. Mary Harron’s 2000 film vastly improves on its source material, skillfully balancing comic violence with Wall Street satire, with an over-the-top performance from Christian Bale and a rocking ‘eighties soundtrack adding a vibrancy that was missing from Ellis’ extended prose descriptions of brand-name products and canine torture.
The musical, with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and a book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, falls somewhere between these extremes. The mise en scène is ambitiously cinematic, complete with a cold opening murder, the title of the show projected behind Patrick Bateman (Benjamin Walker), who is surrounded in fog as he slashes the neck of a woman in his immaculate Upper West Side apartment. Later, as his girlfriend Evelyn (Helene Yorke) and his mistress Courtney (Morgan Weed) prepare for a dinner party, the names of fashion designers flash up the sides of the stage like Vegas marquee lights, the women singing, “I want blackened charred mahi mahi / It works so well with Isaac Mizrahi / I’ll have soda and creme de menta / Tastes so good with Oscar de la Renta.”
American Psycho also makes the right decision in remaining in Patrick’s consciousness: much of the action is narrated in his opaque deadpan, and we are never quite sure whether he relishes or loathes the culture of which he is a part. “Whenever I tan, I wear a chilled, custom-made silicon gel mask to keep my eyes from looking puffy,” he announces confidently after his first killing, suggesting a causal link between high-end consumerism and bloodlust. Mr. Walker, often shirtless and in Wayfarers, exudes the confidence of a veteran radio announcer; his muscles, like something out of 300, offer another contrast between capitalist, health nut self-perfection and animal carnage.
Still, at two and a half hours, the musical runs a little long, and Mr. Sheik’s songs tend to bleed into each other with few if any distinguishable showstoppers. The best moments recycle tunes from the era—Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip to Be a Square” and The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”—leading me to suspect this might have worked better as a jukebox musical or a play with occasional numbers. Nevertheless, one can’t help but appreciate any show that features a song in which, among a recital of items reported by the New York Post, we hear of mutant alligators in the sewers and Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.