AMERICAN PSYCHO THE MUSICAL seems an incongruous pairing of murder and the lyrical however it follows a surprisingly long list of killer musicals, such as Little Shop Of Horrors, Sweeney Todd and Assassins, to name but a few. Even the Broadway blockbusters have dark hearts. West Side story – intolerance, Fiddler On The Rood – anti semitism, My Fair Lady – sexism, South Pacific and Porgy and Bess – racism.
The protagonist Patrick Bateman says towards the end of the show that this not a fable, this is not an allegory. However in the same way he lies to his ‘friends’ he is also lying to us. It is a cautionary tale. Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik this is an allegory about what happens when consumerism runs riot and the rich feel entitled to do anything. Indeed, there have been studies on road safety that have shown that drivers of expensive cars will disobey a stop sign three times more than the driver of a more humble car.
Set in the late eighties, early nineties when ‘greed is good’ was the mantra and Wall Street was in a massive bubble, those with too much money had no purpose but to find the next thrill be it in a fashionable new restaurant, status dripping motor car, labelled apparel and the next designer drug. To a psychopath such as Patrick Bateman, he feels that he is entitled to experience in his mind the ultimate thrill, slaughtering someone, be it somebody he knows or a complete stranger. And yet it is, at times, very funny, admittedly black comedy, there are laughs to be had.
Much of the humour occurs in the first Act when the characters mindlessly pursue status and there are comic songs referring to Ferragamo, Chanel and the like. The petty jealousies and one-upmanship is also a vein for the comedic elements in the show.
Throbbing with electronic disco beats the music is unusual in that it seamlessly combines Duncan Sheik’s original compositions with some late twentieth century mainstream hits such as In The Air Tonight, Hip to be Square, and Everybody Wants to Rule The World.
Musical Director Andrew Worboys, whilst incorporating deep grooves of bass and electronica, like the composer did not use a band, just a single sound design. Despite the London and New York productions utilising the same soundtrack Worboys varied from this using the mainstream songs and building resonating sonic hooks into a cohesive, pulsating sound. In this he is ably assisted by Nick Walker.
Incongruously I like to dance, and this music made me feel like I wanted to get up and dance despite the fact that macabre depravity was unfolding on stage.
Speaking of the stage I regard the Hayes Theatre as a miraculous Tardis. For non Dr Who fans his Tardis is a tiny police phone box, small on the outside, but infinitely large on the inside.
The stage design by Isabel Hudson was spectacular, mounted on a revolve, and consisting of giant mirrors and reflective doorways magnifying and distorting at times those on the stage and indeed the audience. Warped elements in the imperfect mirror surfaces reflected Bateman’s fractured, psychotic mind and indeed the distorted values perhaps lurking in our own minds.
Benjamin Gerrard is mesmerising as the evil Patrick Bateman, originally played in the 2000 movie version by Christian Bale. When he is at his most unhinged Gerrard’s face contorts into that of a demented clown with the upturned smile and his teeth bared like fangs. He strides through the corridors of the revolve with bearing and charisma whether he is in his sharp suit or revealing a rippling torso. He is a man convinced he can bend everyone to his will. His musical range depicts emotions varying from sly and demonic vocalising to an almost pitiable shriek
On stage throughout the production, Gerrard effortlessly transforms into the devil, tempered somewhat by his foolish status anxieties.
Shannon Dooley plays Evelyn Williams as Patrick’s rich, trophy girlfriend with all the vapid, emotionally shallow characteristics of an American ‘princess’ In a complex portrayal despite her diva antics she conveys a genuine love for the monster that is Patrick.
Special mention must be made of Blake Appelqvist who plays Paul Owen, Patrick’s rival and enemy, He gleefully mocks Patrick and in the dance numbers displays a loose limbed dexterity that suits the house music sound.
Amy Hack as Sabrina lying in a tub of money covered in dollar bills is highly amusing and Eric James Gravolin playing Sabrina’s secretly gay fiancee also deliver some very funny lines.
The rest of the cast are uniformly excellent – all being triple threats.
Director Alexander Berlage masterfully maximises the revolve and it’s mirrors whether it be the illusion of someone walking through a metropolis, working in a corporate office or dancing in a seedy discotheque.
The revolve sometimes reveals startling and disturbing tableaus wrapped in plastic similar to the plastic used by Patrick Bateman when he wants to murder someone without spilling any blood onto the surrounding room or alleyway.
It’s remarkable how clothing hasn’t changed that much from the late twentieth century to today. Sure hems go up and down, suits are double breasted and then they’re not but to evoke a contemporary feel costume designer Mason Browne has designed clothing for the affluent class invoking designers such as Versace, Valentino, Hugo Boss, Chanel and Oscar De La Renta, the latter having an especially amusing reference during the show. These labels have had an irresistible lure for the wealthy.
Choreographer Yvette Lee had the unenviable task of having an ensemble dance on a revolving stage which would speed up or slow down in time to the emotional tempo. Coupled with this groups navigating the mirror corridors looked perilously close to crashing into side walls but all was right on the night.
I understand there were legal difficulties in getting this production into the Hayes Theatre, but all the efforts to bring this production to fruition were well worth it. Laughing whilst we should be horrified, toe tapping when we should be appalled, occasionally pitying Patrick whilst we should be unceasingly disgusted makes for a very satisfying night at the theatre.
AMERICAN PSYCHO THE MUSICAL is playing the Hayes Theatre, Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point.