Over the last two decades the great trend in musical theater has been to adapt narrative films and filmed musicals for the stage.
“Ghost,” hilariously, is being taken to the stage as “Ghost: The Musical.” Sex, clay and ectoplasm, baby. Then, of course, there are musical theater adaptations of “Catch Me If You Can,” “Billy Elliot,” “Cry-Baby,” “The Lion King,” “Spider Man” and “Legally Blonde,” amongst others.
None of these films, however, hold a candle to the satirical psychopathology of Brett Easton Ellis’s novel “American Psycho” and its film adaptation by Mary Harron. Now, “American Psycho” is being adapted for the stage as a musical.
Ellis’s book pulls readers into a Dantean trip of wealth and depravity which is equal parts hilarious, boring, and explicitly graphic in Bateman’s narration of the murders. One such scene involves a rat and vagina that nearly made me vomit, then reconsider my own sanity as a voyeur to Bateman’s deranged predation. The book’s publication and press tours were heavily protested by feminists, who, if they even happened to have read it, failed to notice Ellis’s blatant satire of misogyny, as well as the character’s latent homosexuality and accompanying self-hatred.
Littered amongst the murders and decadence, however, are Bateman’s exhausting but wonderfully entertaining reviews of music and products. Mere curiosities at first, the reviews are a window into Bateman’s mind: his gaze is purely surface level, a reflection of a consumer world. They make of him, or reveal him to be, a pure automaton or simulacrum. Lost in the veneer of hyperreality, Bateman has lost sight of himself. But, Bateman’s gaze is our own as well, which is why neither his upper class chums sense his insanity nor the lower classes see a predator behind the dazzle of male beauty and wealth. A prostitute, however, senses something rotten behind Bateman’s mask, as she—like many in her trade—is intimately in touch with the baser human impulses. The real, so to speak.
The film, which came out in 2000—paving the way for Christian Bale’s role in the “Batman” franchise—dispensed with the most graphic moments of the novel. Harron instead focused on the story’s black humor undercurrent, infusing the atmosphere with clinical scenes of Bateman at home (or at Paul Allen’s loft), boring scenes at the office, or the glittering lights and decadence of New York City’s club and restaurant culture in the ’80s. There is also a very robust ’80s horror camp vein embedded in Harron’s adaptation, particularly a bloodied Bateman nakedly chasing a victim down a hallway with a chainsaw, chomping at the bit like one of nature’s most brutal predators.
And who can forget lines such classic Bateman lines as: “I need to return some videotapes,” “I’m in touch with humanity,” ”I’m on a diet,” “Do you like Phil Collins?,” TRY GETTING A RESERVATION AT DORSIA NOW YOU FUCKING STUPID BASTARD!,” and, my personal favorite, “I’m on the verge of tears by the time we arrive at Espace, since I’m positive we won’t have a decent table. But we do, and relief washes over me in an awesome wave.”
Harron’s interpretation of “American Psycho,” which was within Ellis’s original all along and only needed to be chiseled away, as it were, will make it palatable for audiences. And while one would hope for something daring from the musical’s producers (London-based Headlong), perhaps this sort of satire of wealth, privilege, misogyny and capitalism as psychosis is best served in a more sterilized, humorous format.
Yet, imagine an unflinching portrayal of Bateman’s most psychotic moments—it would be akin to Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty as conceived in “The Theater and its Double.” Audiences go to theaters to escape reality, though, not to have it disintegrated before their very eyes.
Perhaps Headlong will be able to tread that delicate balance. And, could they please get Phil Collins involved?