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‘American Psycho’ review: Benjamin Walker in a bloody affair

Holly James and Benjamin Walker star in

Holly James and Benjamin Walker star in "American Psycho." Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel

If an English tale about a homicidal barber who slits his customers throats and grinds them into meat pies can be made into a musical (i.e. “Sweeney Todd”), why not “American Psycho?”

Bret Easton Ellis’ psychologically tricky 1991 slasher novel is probably best-known for the 2000 film version in which Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, the fashion- and fitness-obsessed, Donald Trump-worshipping investment banker who may or may not turn into a serial killer at night.

Director Rupert Goold, songwriter Duncan Sheik and book-writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa persuasively capture the designer chic milieu, materialistic attitude and dance club sound of 1980s Manhattan while adding a pervading sense of eerie unease. The trippy, meticulously designed staging is full of wall-to-wall digital projections and jarring group movements. At times, the actors resemble robotic zombies.

They spared no violence. Act One closes with Bateman aiming an ax at one of his victims. The blood subsequently splattered is cleaned up during intermission by stagehands. Bateman later wields an assault rifle and chain saw as the bloodied-up corpses pile up.

Benjamin Walker’s Bateman brings to mind a Ken doll with a dirty mind and a butcher knife. He captures the character’s crisp, cocky demeanor and the lost, twisted psyche underneath the impeccable exterior. The strong cast also includes Heléne Yorke as Bateman’s high-strung girlfriend, Jennifer Damiano as his sweet young secretary and Tony winner Alice Ripley as his heavily medicated mother.

Notwithstanding all this, the piece has serious structural problems. It revolves around an unsympathetic character who shows little desire and has no real motivation to break into song. The momentum of the storytelling is often interrupted by Bateman’s self-absorbed musings. It also ends on an unapologetically depressing note.

Duncan Sheik’s electronic, often dissonant score has a monotonous feel, which may explain why a few ’80s pop hits have been thrown in. I came away feeling that “American Psycho” works better as a drama with background music instead of a fully-blown musical.

If you go

“American Psycho” plays an open run at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. 236 W. 45th St., americanpsychobroadway.com.

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