Theatre Review – American Psycho (Broadway, New York)

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Another production I was keen to see during my trip to New York was the Broadway transfer of the Almeida Theatre’s musical version of American Psycho. I’d thoroughly enjoyed the show when it opened in London in 2013, seeing it a few times during its brief run. Having purchased the cast recording prior to my holiday, that production felt fresh in my memory on arriving at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

It was an entertaining afternoon and also fascinating to see the changes that had been made to the show since its original run. Some of these changes I very much welcomed, while I missed other elements that have been changed.

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Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman

The most noticeable difference from the start was the change to the arrangement of some of Duncan Sheik’s songs, to the extent that they sounded quite different from when I’d last heard them, which threw me a little. Such changes relate to Opening, Selling Out, Killing Time and Not A Common Man. On an initial viewing my immediate view is that I prefer the original versions, but perhaps if I’d had a second opportunity to see the show maybe they would have grown on me. However my least favourite song of the production has also disappeared. I was not a fan of “Oh Sri Lanka” during Patrick Bateman’s birthday and felt it jarred the flow of the story. Its removal, with instead a great moment with Bateman “cutting” his birthday cake is funny and in-keeping with the show.

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The staging and style of Rupert Goold’s American Psycho were two of the aspects I’d loved best and these continue to impress on Broadway. The show looks great, with Es Devlin’s set able to have a little more space than the Almeida could provide, which enables it to open out even more, especially in the second half, with the whole side of the stage opening in to separate doorways, through which various cast dressed in white and covered in blood appear as Bateman’s killing spree ratchets up. Whether a decision of the cast or creative team, the Broadway cast also spend much longer in their underwear! Indeed, Benjamin Walker’s Bateman spends all of the opening shirtless, while visiting the video store on route to work etc. (with a quick detour in to the aisles, to spray the audience with money from spray guns) and a good portion of the second half in just his underwear.

The depiction of the violence of Bateman’s secret life is also heightened in the visual imagery on display. There is much more blood on Broadway! One of the aspects of the original show I was dissatisfied with was how relatively tame Bateman’s acts seemed. It made him less dangerous. Here, we see him truly attack his rival Paul Owen, which thanks to a screen separating the stage from the front rows, means they can be more generous with the fake blood. This continues in the second half when during one of my favourite songs from the show the bodies literally pile up!

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Benjamin Walker, Jennifer Damiano & Alice Ripley

I also thought it was an interesting directorial decision to stage some of the scenes of the second half with Bateman just his underwear, covered in blood. He chats with Jean in his office and encounters Luis in Barney’s all while in this state, but they treat him as normal, giving the audience a sense that perhaps not everything in this world is real. For me, this plays in to the conclusion of the show very well indeed and is a great change.

From a cast perspective, personally there were some positives and some disappointments. One of my favourite characters from London was Jean, the kind and caring assistant in love with Bateman and the nicest character in the whole show. Jennifer Damiano plays her well, but vocally Cassandra Compton was much stronger in the role, with songs such as “A Girl Before” standing out. Damiano didn’t hit the top notes as strongly in my view, which did disappoint me. Susannah Fielding also seemed to find a greater to depth to the character of Evelyn than her Broadway counterpart Helene Yorke. I did particularly enjoy Theo Stockman’s portrayal of Bateman’s friend Tim Price. He was quite different from Jonathan Bailey and was a wonderful dry-humoured element of the production, in a role expanded on Broadway. Tim Price’s breakdown in Tunnel and subsequent disappearance felt odd to me and his reappearance towards the end distracting from the build up to the show’s conclusion. By cutting this plot point and having Tim remain a part of the show throughout was a much better decision.

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Broadway’s American Psycho is much bloodier than London!

A lot hangs on the performance of Patrick Bateman himself and Benjamin Walker is the Broadway production’s biggest asset. He is superb in the role. He brings humour, energy and crucially a predatory darkness at all the right points to the character. Walker is able to be both charming and dangerous and his audience interaction is always on point. It is a different Bateman from Matt Smith’s portrayal in London. I liked both in different ways. If not vocally brilliant, by the end of the show I always felt truly sorry for Smith’s Bateman; he seemed to be someone trapped in a miserable and ultimately fantasist life, in which his wedding felt more akin to a funeral for him. I didn’t have the same reaction to Walker in the role. He seemed more frustrated by his inability to fit in than Smith’s Bateman did and perhaps that meant the end didn’t seem quite as hopeless for Broadway’s Patrick Bateman.

I still really enjoyed American Psycho. Its design, direction, choreography and soundtrack as a whole (despite my preference for the London song arrangements) remain as thrilling and entertaining as they did two years ago. I worry that it may have been more at home in the intimate space of the Almeida and may not enjoy a long life on Broadway, but I hope I’m wrong and that New York audiences go along for the ride. I’m thrilled I was able to see both versions of this production, especially as on reflection they did seem like two quite different shows.

American Psycho continues its run at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (236 West 45th St.). Running-time: 2 hours 40 minutes (including one interval). $37 rush tickets are available each day at the box office, with a limited amount of $45 tickets available via a digital lottery. For more information, visit its website. For anyone interested in listening to the London cast recording, you can stream it for free here. The original London production can also be viewed for free (by advance appointment only) at the V&A Museum’s Theatre & Performance Archive in London. 

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