We don’t cover much theatre here at CHUD, however; when something as important as American Psycho is adapted for the stage, the film world (and videogame world) simply must take notice. Living in New York, I’m a bit of a Broadway nerd. I saw Spiderman: Turn off The Dark before they re-edited the show and removed some of the lesser numbers. I’ve been fortunate enough to see shows in previews, mostly through my cousin, who builds sets for Broadway. I make it a point to go at least a few times a year. I’m looking to catch Lucky Guy, the Nora Ephron comedy about Daily News reporter Mike McAlary. There are musicals I love (Ragtime) and musicals I hate (Young Frankenstein, Mama Mia!), like any fan of live theatre, the intensity of the performance and the honesty of night-to-night realism is what draws me in.
American Psycho has been making its way to the stage for around 4 years now. Although there was a Danish production of an American Psycho drama, this new take is a musical, which seems fitting. One can imagine the monumental undertaking that goes along with translating what is arguably one of the most controversial novels ever written into a Broadway-palatable experience for theatre-goers. I hesitate to call the film a classic, however; for many, it was an audience’s first exposure to Christian Bale and, in my opinion, the performance that landed him the Batman gig.
I’ve been tracking the development of American Psycho since learning that Duncan Sheik, who provided the music for the Tony-award winning Spring Awakening, would be handling composing duties. This excited me. Though I didn’t care much for Spring Awakening, I’ve been a fan of Sheik’s since learning to play “Barely Breathing” on a friend’s acoustic guitar at the age of 12, where I’d warble the best I could, trying to mimic his soulful tone.
Not long after discovering a love for Sheik, I discovered Ellis. I devoured Less Than Zero, acknowledged that writing was something I needed to do, then, after seeing the film adaptation of American Psycho, I read the novel. I love both. I quote an Ellis novel practically every day. For example, I was at a wedding this past weekend and said, casually to my girlfriend that should I ever get married, I would demand that everyone wear expensive Ray-Bans.
When the American Psycho Kickstarter launched, somehow it didn’t land on my radar. It took about a month or so before I was able to throw money at the project in the hopes of earning a Pierce & Pierce flash drive and some other goodies. I contacted Jesse Singer, one of the producers looking to bring this musical to life. He was fairly candid about the show, casting and more, so, check out what the dude had to say. It’s a pretty lengthy read, so, pour a glass of fine chardonnay, check yourself out in the mirror, sit back and enjoy.
“Looking at the Kickstarter, it’s obvious you guys are a bit short of what you’re looking for. What’s plan B, should the Kickstarter not get funded?”
“Plan B is we’ll have to find another way to do it,” Singer said, laughing. “The feedback we’ve gotten on the page itself has been very positive. For us right now, it’s about increasing our outreach.”
I was curious what the initial vision for the musical was, as American Psycho is obviously not the first piece of material that springs to mind when it comes to musical theatre. “As for initial vision, the show comes from the place of us all being big fans. Myself, especially. Our company, Act 4 Entertainment seeks to fund projects that have a real social or political current across the board. We couldn’t think of a better property than this. Despite the controversy, it really is a social satire about where we are in this era of capitalism and although American Psycho takes place in the eighties, what’s going on now is sorta’ like the eighties on steroids. The economic divide has increased to a point where it’s really not stable,” Singer said. “This is really a diatribe on materialism and a class of people who have everything. They have all the means at their disposal and they choose to live a very shallow life. Really, they have the capacity to help and make a difference, but really, it’s a very dark and biting way to look at that world in a satirical way.”
Years back, I had gone to meet Bret Easton Ellis at a Hamptons book signing. This was not long after Imperial Bedrooms, his follow-up to Less Than Zero (aka: the book that changed my life) came out. He was very sweet, funny, charming and everything I had built up in my mind. I always dreamed of meeting the guy who lit the fire in me to put pen to paper, but I never imagined it would ever happen, however; I have the picture of us on my desk as I write this. Ellis and his work are everything to me. I felt terrible when I misquoted him with the following question about Ellis only appreciating Roger Avary’s adaptation of The Rules of Attraction.
“Actually, that’s not true. I know Bret very well. I know he likes Mary Harron’s film and I know he’s a fan of our project. I think he’s been misquoted a lot as to whether he likes American Psycho or not. I can find you some press if you like.”
“Nah, that’s fine,” I said, laughing nervously.
“That’s a common misconception that he doesn’t like the film,” Singer told me.
In terms of bringing some of the things that were not in the film that were in the book (a certain sequence involving piping, a sewer rat and a woman with her legs spread apart comes to mind), I asked if there are there any plans to incorporate sequences that were left out of the feature film.
“Absolutely. One of the benefits of going back to Bret’s novel as our source material is that it gives us the latitude to work with a lot more options. For instance, there’s a great sequence in our show where Patrick and Evelyn and the characters go to the Hamptons for a weekend and that’s not in the film. It’s a great opportunity there, it’s Patrick’s chance to try and live the yuppie lifestyle but it ends up driving him absolutely crazy,” Singer said. The Hamptons sequence should be a particularly interesting sequence on-stage.
I steered the conversation onto Duncan Sheik. What was the drive to bring Duncan Sheik into the mix? What makes him the man for the job?
“We’re all huge fans of his work. In this space, especially Spring Awakening. The conversation with him really started on the level of like, we were thinking, creatively, with the show, we didn’t want this pastiche version of the eighties. Where it was kind of silly, you know? We wanted a really cool electro-pop, synthpop sound. When talking to Duncan, it was the same type of music that inspired him to become a musician,” Singer said.
“There’s Rock of Ages, and we love Rock of Ages, but that’s very pastiche and it’s a pure jukebox musical. In terms of the sound of Depeche Mode and New Order, you know, Genesis, that’s never really been applied to a musical before. Duncan saw this as an opportunity to really do something different,” Singer said. “You see the rock band on stage a lot in musicals, like, that’s a new thing over the past ten years, but you haven’t seen the synthesizers, like, a guy on stage with a computer or a drum machine or anything like that. So, musically, that’s where Duncan approached this from in the first place.”
“The first time Duncan read the novel, he says this a lot, he read it in college and he was kind of disgusted by it. When we approached him initially, he thought it was a terrible idea but it just kinda’ got into his head and he became obsessed with it. Again, approaching it musically, it all started to click with him. It just became very clear to us that the first two demos he sent in were like ‘Oh my god … this is amazing,’” Singer said.
American Psycho still brings in the hate mail for Bret Easton Ellis. It still strikes a chord with readers around 20 years, post-publication. “Some of the things you may have discussed with Duncan and the other producers, how do you plan on going about some of the more controversial aspects of the narrative?” I asked.
“A lot of that is to be determined in the staging and choreography. I mean, a lot of people have asked if some of the most controversial elements are going to be included. I would say that the film did a really good job of drawing out the satire and leaving some of the more controversial elements on the chopping block. This is going to be an intense show. If you watch the film, it’s an intense film. We’re not going to pull any punches, but, this isn’t going to be a grindhouse staging of a musical, either,” Singer said. “It’s going to be artful.”
Like anyone, I was curious about casting. Whoever plays Bateman is going to have a mountain to climb in terms of preparing for a difficult role.
“Yeah, we’ve started the casting conversation. Since there’s a lot of chatter on social media about who should play Patrick Bateman, I love hearing everyone’s input. We have some ideas,” Singer said, adding “so that’s in the works right now.”
I brought up actor Miles Fisher, who would be perfect as Bateman. I asked if he was on their shortlist because he could nail the character.
“Yeah, I actually know Miles personally,” Singer said. “He’s a friend.”
Check out Miles Fisher doing his best Patrick Bateman in a fantastic cover of The Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place”:
“We’re trying to beef up our social media to hit that Kickstarter goal. It’s really just, like I said, the feedback on the page is great, we just need to get the page in front of more people. I need to stress this: I built this production with the fans of American Psycho, both the novel and film, in mind. I think that one of the things that’s interesting is that people have bought the $300 copy of the signed novel and I said this to Bret as well, that this is a huge compliment. People keep coming back to the source material and its something they want to own,” Singer told me.
“We’re trying to tap into the gamer market, as well. There’s this great Raiden video where he’s going through Patrick Bateman’s morning routine,” he said. “I’m trying to get our campaign into different circles, you know?” Watch Raiden get ready for a day of ass-kicking:
As of this writing, there’s been just north of $35,000 raised for the project. With about $115,000 to go, more folks need to step it up in order to make this show happen. Jesse has done an awesome job in releasing updates on the project, including giving those interested a sample track courtesy of Duncan Sheik that can be streamed from the site itself. The song, “You Are What You Wear” is a brilliant examination of what would now be called “foodie” culture with the conformist notions found in Ellis’ novel. Though Sheik himself is singing the track, the song is meant for the actors who will be playing Evelyn and Courtney.
The song “You Are What You Wear” is obviously a conscious effort to walk that line between eighties opulence and the satirical element mentioned earlier. I asked if Singer and the other producers were concerned about going too far, one way or the other? I then admitted my adoration for “You Are What You Wear.”
“Well, thank you. I mean, some of the music is much darker, and this is one of the more fun, poppy song. They all share that eighties sound, some more than others, but that’s probably the theme across the board,” Singer said.
Lyrically, Sheik’s mentioning all these brilliant pieces you can find nearly word for word from the book. “To Duncan’s credit, ‘You Are What You Wear’ is sung by two female characters as they get ready for the dinner party. It’s kind’ve a company number, but its really a duet between the two of them,” Singer added.
The film’s got a lot of iconic moments. I was curious if the producers were concerned people are going to be measuring the show against the film too much?
“That’s, of course, something on our mind, but its really an opportunity for us to go places the film didn’t go. In film and TV, you have voiceover, in stage, you break the fourth wall and use direct address. Song and choreography can take us to an all-new place and I guarantee whatever actor we have, it’ll be very much his own performance. We’re not looking for anyone to mimic Christian Bale’s performance, which is iconic in its own right and deserves to stand alone. The great thing about the film is that almost everything in it comes from the novel. If you read the business card sequence in the book,” Singer said, adding “It works basically the exact same way as it does on-film, word for word. That’s the genius of Bret’s writing.”
The darker stuff in the book is so dark and you mentioned earlier that there are songs that go to darker places, as well, is that a way to get around visually showing the nastier elements of the book through song?
“I think so, but that’s still something the creative team is working out,” Singer admitted.
I wanted to know what should a fan of American Psycho or someone who’s a fan of modern musical theatre or traditional Broadway expect from this stage adaptation.
“I think they can expect something different. Duncan was quoted as saying ‘The same people that are going to go see this are not the same people who are going to see Elf.’ It’s definitely meant to be edgy, it’s a night out on the town for a sophisticated audience,” Singer said. “Our hope is that the juxtaposition of Patrick Bateman and pop culture, music, fashion, food, is such a strongly associated aspect of the novel and culture that there’s a real place for this in the conversation.”
Keeping Bret happy is one thing, but what about the diehard fans?
“I’m a diehard fan and I love this. I’ve always approached this from the place of being a huge fan. It’s something I’m really proud of,” Singer said.
Knowing I’m a huge fan, Singer was kind enough to let me know he plans on sharing some of the other tracks from the American Psycho stage adaptation. While the image of Patrick Bateman, Timothy Price and David Van Patten dancing around on-stage while Duncan Sheik tackles eighties synthpop might sound a tad nuts, it’s also ballsy and something Broadway and the stage could use right now. I know I plan on being there opening night of previews should American Psycho make it to New York.
I gushed a bit more about “You Are What You Wear,” having listened to it over a dozen times by now. “Awesome! We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on it. It’s available for backers-only on the Kickstarter, but even if you kick a dollar toward the production, you get access to the track and you can give it a listen,” Singer said.
“This production that we’re working towards will be the first time commercial theatre owners will be seeing the show. To be clear: this is a non-profit production. If we sold 100 percent of the tickets, we’d still be losing money but it is an important part of a multi-year development process. This is what goes into a show like this. In film, you shoot, you do twenty or a hundred takes per shot, you can edit, make changes, re-shoot. Theatre is live,” Singer said. “Through a series of readings and workshops and now this developmental production, this is what it takes to build a show like this into a success.”
I brought up an older interview I thought I remembered reading with Duncan a few years back where he mentioned that he might be using some of the music referenced in the novel, as well as his original stuff and whether or not that was still the case.
“Oh yeah, I’m sorry, I didn’t even get into that! Yeah, currently, we’re looking into the rights and whatnot. Our intention is to use some music from the era that will provide a nice, organic fit. That’s never really been done before. You have original musicals and jukebox musicals. This is like a hybrid,” Singer said, laughing a bit. “It’s predominantly original, maybe something like 75 or 80 percent original Duncan Sheik songs, but we will have a few songs from the era, as well. I don’t wanna’ say which ones, yet. I don’t think fans will be disappointed.”
I had to know if Huey Lewis’ “Hip To Be Square” was going to make it into the show. The image of a choreographed dance number with Patrick Bateman splitting open Paul Owen’s head with an axe while Huey Lewis booms through the theatre is something that should excite any fan. While Singer didn’t confirm or deny that Huey Lewis was in the conversation, regarding rights for the show, of all the iconic tracks and moments, it seems natural.
The impression I got from Singer was that this is genuinely being put together with fans in mind. I know, often, producers and writers, directors, whomever, will say that and end up screwing the entire production up, however; as a backer and diehard Ellis fanatic, if “You Are What You Wear” is any indication, fans are going to be pleased. Some of Sheik’s lyrics seem like the perfect way to end this piece:
The ginger mango soy black bass compliments beige Bill Blass. I will not touch a drop of red wine. Don’t want to ruin the Calvin Klein.
Thanks very much to Jesse Singer and the talented folks behind American Psycho’s production! Support the project!