The moment the lights went down, the audience whooped like it was the Super Bowl. I began to wonder, was I in the wrong theatre? Alas, no. An explosion of smoke erupted onstage with an ear-splitting bang. This was American Psycho, a testament to modern Broadway. Or rather, what old people would have you think modern Broadway has become: loud, with flashing lights and techno music, and lacking what we long for in our musicals: a soul.
Maybe that’s on Bateman.
Bret Easton Ellis’s tale of Patrick Bateman’s psychosis is one familiar to those who have seen the movie version, but even a newbie could quickly catch on. This musical did not deal in subtleties, preferring explosive dance sequences and strobe lights to nuanced performance.
Was it a three-hour long Lady Gaga music video? Perhaps, but three songs were pop and not one of them hers. Lorde’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” came in for exactly one lyric of the song, sung by Bateman’s secretary, Jean. Which lyric was this? The title.
An oddly poignant moment came when the prostitute Christine sang “In the Air Tonight” (another pop song) in the taxi, immediately preceding a scene straight out of a horror porno. God forbid we become emotionally invested. Crude drawings of crass acts adorned the walls as the entire ensemble cast introduced a rape victim’s worst nightmare. I briefly had to avert my eyes.
“I am not here; I am not there. I am nobody, I am nowhere” sang Bateman in “Common Man”, and I wondered at whether this musical was taking itself seriously at all. One song mocked theatregoers as obsessed with appearances, which as I’d observed earlier in the audience, does not hold true for a 2016 audience (a girl next to me ate Pringles noisily, cackled like a hyena, and then left her garbage as though Broadway theaters are the new ghetto). A throwaway reference to Donald Trump may have been timely for the setting, but was an instant guffaw moment for those around me. Every time it seemed as though darkness would seep in, a blood splatter would swing us right away from any semblance of true meaning.
I have never been to a more convoluted fashion show. The comedy wasn’t dark in this musical, more a light grey peppered with very strange dancing. It played like an advertisement for blood.
The saving grace was Jennifer Damiano. Known for her Tony nominated turn in Next to Normal and already a veteran of another failed musical, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, she pierced the absolute carnage with a lovely voice and sincerity lost to the rest of the characters. Through her character Jean, we saw some humanity in Bateman- after all, for all his insanity, he is human. That’s one of the best parts of the story, seeing the chinks in his armor that reveal not only an animal, but a tortured one at that.
When the end came, I was wickedly happy. He didn’t deserve Jean. That musical did not deserve Jean.
I left enamored with the furniture on set, already forgetting the songs.