The words “American Psycho” and “the musical” don’t sound like they belong together in a sentence, let alone in a title. And yet, as with many things these days, it’s so wrong it’s right. The macabre and the fabulous. It’s an unlikely marriage, but it works. Having done Broadway and London’s West End, American Psycho The Musical is now cutting a sharp figure at Sydney Opera House. This production from Director Alexander Berlage and starring Benjamin Gerrard is startlingly brilliant.
The 1991 novel American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is a postmodern masterpiece considered so dangerous that it is to this day sold shrink wrapped in plastic, or banned altogether. The 2000 film starring Christian Bale is rated “R 18+” and continues to shock and disturb audiences. Reimagined as a musical, the tale of Patrick Bateman, slick investment banker by day, serial ax murderer by night, is slightly less graphic but provocative nonetheless.
The most appropriate adjective to describe the musical, however, is funny. The dark satire of the film has been taken to a laugh-out-loud level in the musical. Even the dancing is hilarious. I didn’t know that such a thing as comic choreography existed before seeing Yvette Lee’s work here. Every move is a parody of a particular style of person we all readily identify or, even more confrontingly, may recognise in ourselves. The choreography, like the piece as a whole, is a commentary on narcissism, on superficiality, on hedonism and greed.
The heavily programmed score is an interesting fusion of 80s cover tunes like Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Hip to be Square and Don’t You Want Me with original compositions by Duncan Sheik. The original songs are mostly house music and electronica with a deep bass heartbeat pulsing throughout. Andrew Worboys’ entirely digital arrangement (no band!) blends everything into a single sonic environment that mirrors the heavily processed world that Patrick Bateman inhabits. I’m sure if I had been able to hear the lyrics of the songs I would have found them to be witty, but sadly the extreme volume of the backing track overwhelmed the vocal capacity of some of the actors, including, if not especially, the lead role.
Isabel Hudson’s set comprises a spinning stage with mirrored walls. The revolve brilliantly conjures the hustle and bustle of turn of the 21st century Manhattan’s young, rich whites, as they rush from office to restaurant to club, without pause to breathe. Patrick Bateman’s image is always present in the mirrored walls, which reflect not only his own self-obsession but also the pandemic narcissism of society as a whole. Together, the sound design, choreography and set create a music video effect.
The cast of 11 is exceptional, all with comedic acting and dancing talent, as well as some strong female vocal performances. The lead is dazzlingly reprised by Benjamin Gerrard. That there is exceptional casting. Although not the strongest singer by any means, Gerrard has shone in everything I’ve seen him in over the years. This stylish charismatic role in particular seems written for him. He bubbles over with personality amd presence and is simply a star.
I’m not sure I love the ending. After an extended silence, the final song, This Is Not an Exit, has Bateman step off the stage at the front to watch the closing scene from the perspective of the audience. It isn’t quite a justification, nor a resolution as such, but it is definitely a sudden shift in tone after the high-paced thrilling ride. I suppose it inspires self-reflection about our own faults, conceits, anxieties, and all that makes up the darker side of our nature as a society and as individuals. That harkens back to the more purposeful original text, as it was conceived three decades ago, before it became cult classic entertainment.
– Alicia Tripp
American Psycho The Musical is showing at The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, until 27 June.
Purchase tickets now. The venue is accessible.
Disclaimer: Alicia Tripp was an invited guest of Sydney Opera House