I’m going to be a bit smug but I was with American Psycho the Musical from the start. Admittedly I’m a firm believer in the medium of musical theatre and believe anything can become a musical with the right creative team. And usually the subject matters that appear the worst fit actually make the best shows; I think it’s the contrasting emotions.
So when they announced American Psycho and Duncan Sheik, the first thing I said was how high, I mean how much? So later on when Matt Smith’s casting was announced, the reviews came in and the tickets went out I felt, well, smug, sorry, and now having seen the show, I feel even smugger.
The truth is that for anyone who has read or seen American Psycho knows that it’s not your straightforward slasher. It’s not Psycho or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it exists in a heightened sense of reality, a commentary on the 1980s and consumer greed. In short, it couldn’t be more perfect for musical theatre treatment.
American Psycho is the story of Patrick Bateman, a 26-year-old investment banker living in New York City. If he sounds bored as he blandly describes his beauty regime, buff body and business cards that’s because he is. This world doesn’t interest Patrick; his passions lie in something a lot darker, and a lot more deadly.
Matt Smith’s casting was interesting on multiple levels, and could easily be construed as stunt casting, especially with all eyes on Doctor Who this year. Because let’s face it, Christian Bale (who stared in the film) is the perfect yuppy, incredibly hansom and naturally buff, he oozes success. But Matt Smith plays up to his interesting looks and frame that needs a little more work, he acknowledges it and makes it a driving force.
Though he has had success on stage in the past Smith is not known for musical theatre and his voice is hardly the strongest. But it is a singing voice none the less and its strengths are written into the music, reinforcing the drone like aspect of Bateman’s character. The songs are kept subtle; a lot is hidden, just like Bateman, maintaining a level of mystery.
The rest of the cast are fantastic, it’s a tight ensemble that seem comfortable with caricature, some how conveying a slight depth they’re so desperate to repress. The only genuine character is Patrick’s loyal secretary, Jean, played wonderfully by Cassandra Compton, whose love for her boss is the real deal, and not just based on the man he thinks he projects.
With the music, Duncan Sheik is clearly having a lot of fun, some how theming the songs around 1980’s synth pop with making them pastiche numbers. A couple of the numbers in the first act are a little too fluffy, falling slightly short of satire. But the second act has some cracking numbers and the sinister finale “This is not an exit” could rival “Purple Summer” with it’s Depeche Mode like qualities.
But with a character like Patrick Bateman, who hides behind false tastes to make himself relevant, certain pieces of music are required. And this is where American Psycho works, blending in tracks like “Everybody wants to rule the world” and “Don’t you want me” seamlessly, whether they’re played over the proceedings or sung by the cast, as if they’re ingrained in their consciousness.
The stark set (by Es Devlin) couldn’t be more 80s with a trap door and a couple of turn tables keeping it dynamic, and allowing the cast to appear like automatons. It’s bland but it works. Video projection has also found a comfortable home here, working to emphasise the static signals entering the brain but also sterilising the blood splatter, preventing the gore from taking centre stage.
American Psycho, simply put, works as a musical, maybe it’s the small scale that means it retains focus, maybe it’s the quality of cast and crew (that is more than definitely a factor) or maybe it’s just a case of it being a story that had unrealised musical potential. Whether or not, given the chance, it will ever have mass appeal, well that’s a risk I’d like to see taken (perhaps it can share a theatre with The Light Princess).
If I’d seen this a couple of days earlier it would have topped my 2013 list, along with Once, A Chorus Line, The Color Purple and Light Princess. But seeing it in January it has given 2014 a hell of a lot to live up to, let’s just hope it can step up to the challenge because that would make a mind blowing year.
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