When Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa first read that a number of producers had gotten the rights to turn Bret Easton Ellis’s modern classic, American Psycho, into a musical, he was skeptical about the idea. But also very intrigued. The Glee and Big Love writer had a soft spot for the novel having read it several times over the years, and Broadway had always been a dream of his. Ultimately, his intrigue trumped his skepticism, and he actively sought out the project. After several meetings with the show’s producers, the writer, who comes from a Nicaraguan family but who grew up in Washington, D.C., found himself reshaping the story of Patrick Bateman into a full-blown musical.
But how do you turn a satirical horror thriller about a narcissistic hetero-hunk who fantasizes about going on killing sprees into a musical comedy? Moreover, how do you create a wholly original take on a character that got its own now-iconic adaptation in Mary Harron’s Christian Bale-starring film? The answer, as Aguirre-Sacasa told REMEZCLA, is by adhering more closely to the “brutally funny book” that Ellis had written. And by really embracing the musical comedy it wanted to be.
“Just putting Bret Easton Ellis’s characters on stage sort of demand that we laugh with them and at them,” he noted. “And the humor helps us with the existential crisis that plagues Patrick and with the violence, it kind of cuts the violence that is in the show.”
Originally envisioned as a jukebox musical, the Broadway show now boasts a 1980s inspired score by Spring Awakening composer Duncan Sheik. It’s a choice that Aguirre-Sacasa suggests gave the production a chance to further explore Patrick Bateman’s interior journey, a daunting challenge which Sheik was happy to take on.
From Aguirre-Sacasa’s past writing credits, which include Rough Magic (a play that borrows characters from Shakespeare’s The Tempest), the 2013 feature film version of Stephen King’s Carrie, and Afterlife with Archie (an Archie comics spinoff where a zombie apocalypse takes over the town of Riverdale), you can tell that Aguirre-Sacasa has a knack for reworking well-known material and putting his own spin on it.
That was certainly the case in the play the American Psycho producers read, and which he believes nabbed him the job: an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey set in 1980s London. The similarities between the Wilde protagonist and Ellis’s lead, he admits, are pretty obvious: “Dorian Gray has interesting echoes of Patrick Bateman and vice versa: the obsession with looks and beauty, the obsession with status, the amorality of the characters, these sort of pansexual proclivities.”
“I think, Patrick Bateman was like the first metrosexual.”
The comparison brings up another aspect of the Patrick Bateman character that is, as Aguirre-Sacasa admitted, perhaps embedded into the character’s DNA: his queerness, “especially in what kind of misfit he is. In his social and sexual quirks.” Not that he would go as far as to say that Patrick Bateman, created, after all by out gay author Ellis, and here again given shape by an out gay book writer, is in any way a mouthpiece for any type of gay agenda. “He is obsessed with having an amazing body and working out, and beauty products. And talks about guys in very sexualized ways so in that way, I think, Patrick Bateman was like the first metrosexual.”
There is something interesting about having him strip down to his most elemental, sexual self.
Audiences may very well remember Bale doing push-ups in his skivvies in the 2000 film, but Broadway audiences are treated to plenty more here, with Broadway hunk Benjamin Walker spending a good third of the show in his tighty-whities. It’s a gamble and a pretty bold choice and Aguirre-Sacasa confessed that he’d first been skeptical about that directorial choice “The part was not written for him to be in tighty whities and blood-soaked tighty-whities for 30 or 40 minutes of the show. That was [director] Rupert [Goold]’s choice.” Thankfully, he came around, finding that it really emboldened the themes of the show the creative team was putting together.
“Patrick is all about the predator’s gaze and the male gaze and there is something interesting about having him strip down to his most elemental, sexual self,” he said. “That’s certainly how Patrick relates to the world, in very physical, very sexual, very violent ways. So there’s something about him being covered in blood in his tighty-whities that does combine violence and sexuality in a very primal way.”
“By the way, do the audiences love it? Yeah, the audiences love it.”
American Psycho opened on Broadway on April 21st.