There’s no heart but lots of blood in “American Psycho,” Duncan Sheik and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s witty musical treatment of the scandalous 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis (and the sicko-sexy 2000 film version starring Christian Bale) about a serial killer with a day job as a Wall Street investment banker. In this Broadway retelling, the story has been somewhat softened compared with those previous versions, but Benjamin Walker (hands still dripping from “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”) is one hunk of gorgeous ice sculpture as that homicidal narcissist Patrick Bateman, and director Rupert Goold serves up the greedy ’80s vibe with knife-edge tech design and razor-sharp musical choices.
This high-concept show opens on a note of sheer anxiety in “Morning Routine,” with a chorus of robotic Wall Streeters marching off to work on two fast-moving revolves. This supple and well-dressed (by Katrina Lindsay) army is oblivious to the visual barrage of black-and-white patterns splattered on Es Devlin’s cubistic set, but the audience is properly disoriented by Finn Ross’ extraordinary projections.
From this cacophony of sound (by Dan Moses Schreier) and light (by Justin Townsend) and absence of color emerges Patrick (Walker), rising from a tanning bed in his tighty-whities and Wayfarer sunglasses like Adonis on the Half-Shell.
Patrick may look like a god (and think of himself as one), but the first words out of his mouth are a worldly list of the possessions he owns and the ones he lusts after. “My suit today is an ’80s drape from Alan Flusser,” he brags. “My tie is by Valentino Couture; my shoes are by A. Testoni. Underwear by Ralph Lauren.” Ellis was roundly criticized for Patrick’s mania for lists when the novel came out, but Aguirre-Sacasa’s book and Sheik’s lyrics savor the author’s satiric intent, and Walker nails the character’s mannerisms with a disdainful tone that both respects and mocks his pretensions.
There’s nothing subtle about the two numbers, “Selling Out” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” which take Patrick downtown and into the offices of Pierce and Pierce, where he’s something of a rock star — until a rival banker named Paul Owen, slickly played by Drew Moerlein, steals his thunder. (“Paul Owen’s business card is nicer than mine,” Patrick pouts.)
Overall, the music is a super-smart mix of Sheik’s original songs with ’80s classics (like “In the Air Tonight” from Phil Collins’ aptly named album “Face Value”) that match up with the show’s emphasis on the superficial, materialistic pursuits of the era. The guys are power-mad and money-crazy (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”) and the girls wear shoulder pads and find power wherever they can (“You Are What You Wear”).
A series of imaginatively staged scenes — having lunch with the guys in an upscale restaurant, enduring his disastrous 27th birthday party, screwing his girlfriend’s best friend, doing lines of coke at Tunnel — start Patrick on his downward spiral into the homicidal madness that Ellis used to satirize the desperate selfishness and greed of the materialistic Reagan era. But the closest Patrick comes to self-awareness is when he says: “The world’s going insane and our bodies have somehow become attuned to the insanity. It’s starting to make sense.”
From there, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to the nihilism captured in “Killing Time” — “It’s the end of the world / And none of it matters” — and the onslaught of real slaughter. With blood and everything.
With choreography by Lynne Page, the staging is consistently stylish, and the well-drilled ensemble work — by strong performers like Helene Yorke, Morgan Weed and Jennifer Damiano — is consistently impressive. Nevertheless, the second act is disappointing. The humor is less manic, the songs less cutting, and, more critically, the violence is not violent enough. In earlier works, Patrick’s supposed brutality was sadistic and quite graphic. He nail-gunned his female victims. He cut them up into little pieces. He was drenched in blood.
This musical version is not only more stylized, it’s also less savage. When he does get down to business, very little blood is spilled. The point is not to pander to our morbid tastes, but to frighten us, as Patrick frightened readers and viewers in his previous incarnations.
Real villains, like Sweeney Todd and the Phantom of the Opera, move us to fear, loathing and ultimately pity. Patrick could learn a thing or two from those monsters.