Broadway musicals in recent years have featured leading characters that break the traditional mold, from a peppy Mormon missionary to a hip-hop-spouting Founding Father. To this list can now be added an Armani-wearing Wall Street shark who moonlights as a serial killer. That would be Patrick Bateman, the not-quite hero of American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis’s infamously violent and sadistic 1991 novel about the soullessness of the go-go eighties (and Mary Harron’s 2000 film version starring a young Christian Bale). As the stage adaptation of American Psycho gets set to open at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, the big news is not the gore but the return to Broadway of Benjamin Walker (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) in a show with period-inspired dance songs by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening), stylishly directed by Rupert Goold (King Charles III). “We need to make a glittering satire on a materialistic world of total superficiality and vanity—a kind of Dexter meets Sex and the City,” Goold says, “while at the same time being mournfully funny, like Lost in Translation or Groundhog Day. And finally we want it to be moving and troubling, like Sweeney Todd or Crime and Punishment.”
Goold first staged American Psycho at London’s red-hot Almeida Theatre, which he runs, in 2013, starring Doctor Who’s Matt Smith (and featuring sleekly ingenious sets, as on Broadway, by Es Devlin). But he had always wanted Walker, who had done several workshops of the show, for the titular maniac. “Ben has a laid-back, almost Tarantino-like sense of latent danger about him,” Goold says, “along with a sort of dry, melancholic wit. He’s a full triple threat: He can sing and dance and act brilliantly while still exuding a very evident—dare I say it—heterosexual kind of presence.”
As Bateman, Walker makes his entrance in an upright tanning bed, clad only in sunglasses and a pair of tighty-whities, to introduce us to his world of Alan Flusser suits, A.Testoni shoes, Clinique eye balm, and Egyptian-silk sheets that look like—and may very well be—evidence from a particularly gruesome crime scene. “For him, the way you present yourself—the way, for example, your name is embossed on your business card—is a defining characteristic of who you are as a man,” Walker says. “It’s a matter of life and death, which I find funny and sad and innately human.” To be sure, Patrick Bateman’s inability to see other people—from his venally clueless fiancée (Heléne Yorke) to his lovelorn secretary (Jennifer Damiano)—as anything more than disposable commodities points to the less appealing side of human nature. “Patrick has absolutely no conscience,” Walker says. “But he’s stylish, and he’s a lot of fun, and it’s kind of liberating to imagine being that person for a couple of hours, to experience what it’s like to give zero fucks about everyone else.”
He is also, Walker insists, a complicated, even sympathetic, character. “I feel strangely protective of him—he’s trying to find meaning and belonging, but he can’t let anyone see who he really is,” he says. “Once you’re immersed in it, you start to root for him, because in his mind, he is righting injustice, though in a very extreme way.”
The show is propelled by Sheik’s infectiously melodic score, in which he abandons the indie-rock idiom of Spring Awakening to return to the electronic dance music of his youth. “When I was in college, I was going to Tunnel and M.K. and all the same clubs that are referenced in Bret’s book, so I sort of knew what the musical genre for the show needed to be,” he says. “I broke out all my synthesizers and my drum machines that I’ve had since I was a teenager and started writing.” And though Sheik wants to push the boundaries of the traditional musical to appeal to a generation that might otherwise stay away from Broadway, he’s also thrilled to expand his palette beyond mere pop music. “There’s only so many songs you can write that are like, ‘This girl doesn’t like me anymore,’ ” Sheik says. “It’s much more interesting to write a song from the perspective of Patrick Bateman when he’s just back from the Hamptons and his bloodlust is going nuts, and he’s like, ‘OK—I need to hire some prostitutes and murder some people. Right. Now.’ That’s a really fun song to write.”
Makeup and Special Effects: Carla White; Grooming: Thom Priano at Garren New York for R+Co
Set Design: David White for Streeters
Sittings Editor: Phyllis Posnick
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