A Kickstarter campaign may help put an ‘American Psycho’ in London

Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in the 2000 film adaptation of "American Psycho."

Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in the 2000 film adaptation of “American Psycho.”

For years, Sondheim and Wheeler’s classic, Sweeney Todd has largely cornered the market on serial killer theatre, but this December, the West End is going to find itself with a new murderer on the block.  American Psycho, the controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis, has been adapted into a musical which will open later this year at the Almeida Theatre in London with plans to run from December 3 through January 25 of next year, thanks to a partnership between the Almeida, Headlong, and Act 4 Entertainment.

The novel, which has faced heavy criticism for its scenes of explicit violence, particularly against women, centers on Patrick Bateman, a young, successful investment banker who is also a serial killer.  The novel follows his daily life and the steady, then rapid, deterioration of his psychological state as his murders become increasingly sadistic and brutal until, by the end of the novel, it is uncertain how much of the narrative actually happened and how much of it occurred entirely in Bateman’s mind.  In addition to the violent spectacle, the novel puts a satirical lens to the materialism of 1980s Wall Street.

Though American Psycho was adapted successfully to film in 2000 with Christian Bale portraying Bateman and Mary Herron directing, it was done so as a horror-comedy and much of the psychological material of the novel was lost in translation. Years after the film’s release Ellis commented in a Q&A session at SCAD that “American Psycho was a book I didn’t think needed to be turned into a movie” because “the medium of film demands answers” and the fact that film provides less opportunity for ambiguity and uncertainty “makes the book infinitely less interesting.”

In contrast, the musical aims to “remain faithful to Bret Easton Ellis’ world and his satirical treatment of the materialism and greed in this era of late capitalism” while delving “even deeper into the characters’ psychologies than ever before.”  With Tony Award-winning Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) penning the music and lyrics for the show, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (co-writer, Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark) on book and 2007 Olivier Award-winning Rupert Goold directing, it’s almost guaranteed that whether it manages to be successful or not, American Psycho will be an interesting stage experience with edgy visuals and “’80s-tinged” music.

While the musical will definitely be coming to London, the production also started a Kickstarter campaign which hopes to raise $150,000 in order to both fund enhancements for the show (including increased rehearsal time, paying a live band and helping to pay wardrobe costs) and possibly, should the show be a success this coming winter, kick-start a potential move to New York.

With ticket sales open to the public online starting May 7 and author Bret Easton Ellis promoting the Kickstarter campaign via Twitter, only time will tell whether or not the world is ready for a novel like American Psycho to take to the stage.  As a fan of the novel who wished they could have done more with the film, the notion of the musical adaptation covering the ground that the film could not (and in song no less!) is a tantalizing one, and the tongue-in-cheek satire of the novel is certainly something that should adapt well to the stage.

The real question is: will everyone else be just as willing to buy it?  The novel and film were controversial and shocking enough to draw audiences long after their respective releases, but will the qualities that made the novel and film successful hold up in theatre?  I like to think that they will.  After all, theatre has a long history of actively seeking to disturb its audiences as much as entertain them, and if any novel-to-stage adaptation is up to that task, it’s the bleak, self-absorbed and brutal vision of 1980s Manhattan that Ellis creates in the pages of American Psycho.

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