Review: American Psycho

IMG_20160503_215155191Have I lost my critical faculties? Do I just like everything now? I wondered, as I walked away from the Schoenfeld theater after seeing American Psycho on Broadway. Because the truth is that I had a great time, and found the new musical daring, dynamic, funny, and memorable. I felt a little embarrassed, because I wasn’t totally sure that it was a good show. But then as my friend Christine said: “I know a lot of people who liked American Psycho, and they’re all kind of embarrassed about it.”

So why did we like it? And why are we a little embarrassed?

Let’s start with the story. I know that everyone else has seen the movie American Psycho, or finished the book. I haven’t done either, and I found the slasher story pretty compelling. Patrick Bateman is a shallow, preppy, materialistic 1980s Wall Street type who is obsessed with Donald J. Trump. (It’s hard to believe the Trump thing is actually from the original source material, but it certainly is.) He’s a wealthy consumer — he loves telling us about his high-end lotions, clothing, electronics and so on — with an equally consumerist fiance (Helene Yorke) and materialistic group of friends. And he just happens to be a serial killer.

It’s a razor-sharp satire — or, well, to be more exact, American Psycho WAS a razor-sharp satire. I’m still in the middle of reading Bret Easton Ellis’s original novel, and it pulls no punches. The musical, on the other hand, is half murderous satire, half 1980s nostalgia comedy. Part of this can’t be helped: that’s where the story is set, after all. But this show has a lot of fun with its 1980s backdrop. This is certainly evident in Robert Aguirre-Sacasa’s sometimes uneven book. Much of Ellis’s original prose is preserved, but now functions as a knowing wink to the past. And the nostalgia is amplified in director Rupert Goold’s production. Everything from the movement to the scenery to the costumes is totally, outrageously of its era. So maybe this adaptation distances us from some of the more horrifying aspects of the story, or the more biting satirical commentary. Oh well. Who cares? American Psycho the musical (like its characters) may be a little relentless in its search for a good time. But it kind of feels like something that Patrick Bateman himself would love.

The music and lyrics are by Duncan Sheik, of Spring Awakening fame. His songs sound vaguely 1980s: high energy, pulsing rhythms, electronic instrumentation, a little cheesy. The music is good; the lyrics are not. (“You’re such a card,” the guys sing to their business cards.) There are also a few genuine 1980s songs, as well: Hip to Be Square, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Don’t You Want Me, In the Air Tonight. Given that I always want original music in a musical, I felt a little guilty for preferring the real 1980s music (by Phil Collins et al) to Mr. Sheik’s score. On the other hand, most people in my generation would probably feel the same way. It’s in our bloodstream by this point.

As for the cast: I’ve already gone too long without mentioning Benjamin Walker. In other words: I’m starting to understand the hoopla. From his first moment he was mesmerizing, charismatic, creepy. He’s hilarious too. The role is enormous — he’s onstage nearly the entire show — and he absolutely commands the space. It’s a highly physical part, too. I honestly don’t understand why Mr. Walker wasn’t nominated for a Tony. (But more on that in a different post.) It was that kind of compelling performance, as far as I was concerned. (On the other hand, I’m a little worried that people will think I only liked him because he is quite handsome, very toned, and spent half the show in his underpants. Not true! Not true at all!)

Then there’s Helene Yorke, who I remember well from her brassy performance in the mediocre Bullets Over Broadway. Evelyn, Patrick’s fiance, is a similarly cartoonish character to Olive of Bullets Over Broadway, but it seems to fit Ms. Yorke better, somehow. It could be the characterization is funnier, or it could be that the tone of American Psycho fits better with her style of comedy than Bullets did. Either way, she’s great here.

I was at a bit of a loss with Jennifer Damiano’s performance. Ms. Damiano plays Patrick’s secretary Jean. She’s a sweet girl and secretly in love with Patrick. (Bad choice, Jean!) Ms. Damiano surprised me with the utter expressionlessness of her performance. Seemingly every line was delivered in a deadpan monotone. I was completely fascinated by this. I mean, this is clearly a performance decision and not just bad acting. But I couldn’t really figure out why. Maybe to set Jean off from the cartoonishness of the rest of the company? Or… or… maybe she is speaking in a completely normal voice, and it only sounds monotonous because the rest of the cast is so over the top? Or… is it actually bad acting? I’m not sure.

So maybe by this point you can see where I’m coming from. There are reasons why I’m embarrassed (the lyrics, the overt nostalgia, the sometimes clunky book) and reasons I liked American Psycho anyway (Benjamin Walker and the rest of the cast, the compelling story, the excellent comedic moments, the music). At this point it seems pretty obvious why the show got such divided reviews. And why it got mostly ignored by the Tony nominators. But I call “no fair.” This is a show that takes more risks than any other new musical on Broadway this season (except Hamilton). And I think that’s something we should root for.

My Grade: B
Running Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Ticket price: $59 (Box office with discount)
Worth it: Yes
Standing Ovation Watch: Yes

Next Up: My Tony nomination reactions

Tony Nominations 2014

My first thoughts when it comes to Tony nominations and awards are always about the shows I’ve taken “ownership” of for one reason or another. Since I saw all of them before I even started this blog, I thought I’d talk a bit about my reactions to the nominations (or lack thereof) for some of my big favorites of the season.

As a caveat, I haven’t seen three out of the four best musical nominees. (Good grief! That sounds so embarrassing! What kind of Broadway blogger am I?) I do want to see Beautiful and After Midnight in the weeks to come, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to snag a ticket for Aladdin. For the plays, I’ve seen All the Way, Outside Mullingar and Mothers and Sons, but not Casa Valentina or Act One. I’m not convinced I’ll get around to seeing either, so my fairly uninformed pick for Best Play is currently All the Way.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
My pick for best musical of the year (since Fun Home isn’t eligible), and my current go-to selection for those who ask me what show they should see on Broadway. So naturally I was really delighted with all the nominations for this piece. Both actors (Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham) are wonderful and I’d love to see either win (though I know they won’t, not with Neil Patrick Harris in the running). I was happy for Lauren Worsham, though her nomination made me wonder if Lisa O’Hare (who is also terrific) got her feelings hurt a bit. I know I would, if I was the only one of the four major actors in a show not to get a nomination. She’s probably way more professional than I am, though. In any case, I’m rooting for this show to win nearly everything but best score, though the songs are terrific. A friend pointed out that a comedy like Gentleman’s Guide doesn’t even need to have songs that are this good. But it does, and it’s wonderful. I just think the score was bettered, just by a teeny tiny bit.

The Bridges of Madison County
I’ve been pretty apologetic about my regard for this show. When people ask me how it is, I say something along the lines of this:

“Yeah, I really do think it’s great, but then of course I’m a Jason Robert Brown fan and I tend to love his music. And you know, I don’t even care about the love story that much, because Robert Kincaid isn’t even all that interesting of a character*. Mostly I love it for Francesca and her story.”

You know what? The heck with that. I’m going to stop apologizing. It’s a lovely show, full of heart and intelligence. (And oh that music! My favorite score of the year. Again, the caveat is that Fun Home isn’t eligible.) I got really irritated with the New York Times review, which seemed to imply that Kelli O’Hara’s performance was the only real reason to see this show. I agree that she is marvelous, but there’s plenty to like about this show. The writers did a great job of opening up the story, it’s beautifully staged, the sets are evocative, the cast is all-around terrific. Basically, the whole thing is a really strong effort. I agree with Jesse Green, who said “That the musical succeeds in extracting something so smart and powerful from the treacle is little short of miraculous.” It deserved a nomination for best musical, for crying out loud. Tony committee, what’s the matter with you people?

* – I still don’t think Robert Kincaid is nearly as interesting as Francesca is, though. I get that theirs is a Great Love, but geez. He really doesn’t ever experience intimacy except for those four days in Iowa? That’s totally neurotic! I want to see a musical about how nuts that guy is. The gorgeous, heartfelt song “It All Fades Away” doesn’t actually do him any favors in my book, because who wants to live a life like that? I tend to justify it to myself, however, by saying it’s a song basically along the same lines of “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific. Yes, over the top, but since when did Broadway shows shy away from “hearts on sleeves” moments? Still, though, next to Francesca’s lovely and complex “Always Better” immediately afterwards, it’s a bit hard to swallow.

Bullets Over Broadway
Boy can Susan Stroman ever stage a musical. Wow. Every number, every transition is winning and clever and joyous. I just love to watch her dancers move onstage. Particularly during that gangster tap dance number, which is a real old-fashioned showstopper. (Do they get a Tony number? Can they pretty please do the gangster tap number on the Tonys?) Of course, transitions and choreography don’t necessarily make for a wonderful show. To be honest, I prefer the movie. I keep telling people who ask me about it “Well, the whole reason I like musicals is for the new songs and this show doesn’t have any of those.” (Which is why I haven’t gotten around to After Midnight or Beautiful yet.) (I shouldn’t mention my unabashed love for Jersey Boys as it might contradict my point.) But the lack of new songs probably isn’t the real reason. I just wish it was a bit funnier, and that it didn’t take out some of my favorite moments from the movie, like Cheech’s final script suggestion, and the film’s lovely closing scene. I don’t think I would have picked it over Bridges for a nomination, but snubbing both Bridges and Bullets just seems mean. But I’m really happy for Nick Cordero as Cheech, who is just as good as you’ve heard. Marin Mazzie’s lack of a nomination was a bit of a shock, though. What more does the woman have to do? Geez louise.

Twelfth Night
After I saw this, I told all my friends that “Twelfth Night makes SO MUCH SENSE now! It should always be an all-male cast!” Finally, the Viola/Sebastian mixups are just as funny as they were written to be! I never thought the Anne Hathaway Central Park production could be topped, but then I wasn’t accounting for Mark Rylance. Obviously I’d love to see him win for both lead actor (for Richard III) and featured actor (Twelfth Night), just because of the possibility of seeing two of his kooky Tony acceptance speeches in one evening. I didn’t see Richard III, though, so I can’t say for certain that he’s likely to top Bryan Cranston. Anyway, just about everything in this production was delightful, and I’m very happy the Tony committee seems to agree, with nominations for Stephen Fry, Samuel Barnett, and Paul Chahidi.

Best of luck to all the nominees! I look forward to toasting you on Tony night from home, a glass of Prosecco in hand.