“I think people are going to be surprised,” Act 4 Entertainment Vice President of Production and Development Jesse Singer says of his company’s plan to bring “American Psycho” to the stage. Previously adapted for the screen in 2000 by director Mary Harron, and based on a novel by outspoken author Bret Easton Ellis, it’s a chronicle of pharmaceutical and credit-fueled excess with a famously brand-obsessed yuppie, Patrick Batemen, as its antihero protagonist.
Bringing it to the stage is one more layer in the “American Psycho” narrative, the continued transformation of a book and film that have been decried as cruelly misogynistic into something embedded in our pop consciousness. Act 4 has taken to Kickstarter in order to seek funds for the project, which would bring an all-singing, all-dancing Patrick Bateman to the stage with music from Duncan Sheik.
Strangely, it all makes sense.
“I’m a huge fan of Bret’s novel,” Singer tells me, adding that he also really admires the controversial film adaptation (we didn’t discuss the direct-to-DVD sequel starring Mila Kunis, but the less the said about that, the better). At the same time, he feels that “American Psycho” still has something relevant to say about our current political and economic climate: “This project, despite the book being over 20 years old and the film being over 10 years old, remains incredibly current and has a lot to say about what we are as a society and as a country.” For Singer, “American Psycho” is as much about what we value as the brutal, hallucinatory murders of its ’80s Wall Street protagonist.
The Kickstarter campaign, which is down to its final days, is seeking production costs for a non-profit staging of the musical at the Almeida Theatre in London this December. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who’s put in time at Marvel as well as on TV) is writing the book for the play, while Duncan Sheik composes the music and lyrics under director Rupert Goold. “The Kickstarter campaign is to raise money,” Singer says, “But equally, if not more important, [is] the outreach and community we’re able to build around it.” Right now, they’re reaching out to friends and family and other journalists, and last week, Ellis went onto Reddit for an AMA to answer questions and promote the project, but Singer laments that his team may have set the goal — at $150,000 USD — too high given the audience for a London-based performance of a play based on a gruesome novel, but he remains optimistic that the project will hit its goal.
If you’re only familiar with “American Psycho” from Mary Harron’s harrowing feature, you owe it to yourself to read the source material: Ellis’ alternately lurid and cold novel which takes the glee of the film and ramps it up to near mania via Patrick’s brand obsessions and first-person, detailed descriptions of the horrors he may or may not commit on the New York nightlife in his killing sprees. Ellis goes on for pages with Patrick’s strange ruminations about the labels he’s wearing, the brands he follows, and the minutia of a business card, in between his fantasies about dismembering prostitutes and his coworkers with a new chainsaw.
It’s also where the musical will take its most direct inspiration.
Singer says they’re having fun using the novel to go places that the film didn’t explore, while Aguirre-Sacasa’s book for the musical will include some of Patrick’s wandering, sometimes crazed ruminations inserted as both monologue and dialog. Duncan Sheik’s songs will allow them to dwell on brands, food, clothing, restaurants, and explore the obsessions of the other characters in Patrick’s world.
So how do you get a pop performer like Duncan Sheik on board for your “American Psycho” musical? It was a challenge: after producers got the musician to read the book, Singer says Sheik was put off by the idea of adapting the material for the stage (“’Repulsed’ is too strong a word,” Singer explains about Sheik’s reaction). But he says Sheik began obsessing over the material, ultimately striking on a way to make it interesting musically. “Getting to know Duncan, one thing I learned very quickly is this type of music — this type of ’80s synth pop sound that we’re going for — is what inspired Duncan when he was younger,” Singer says, adding that last year, Sheik released a cover album filled with ’80s hits, sort of priming him for the work putting music in Patrick Bateman’s head. Sheik’s ideas morphed into getting a drum machine and synthesizer on stage to accompany the action, with all-original music along with cover songs from that period (Singer thinks it will be something like an 80/20 split between original material and covers).
Like some of you, I wondered if I’d need to bring a raincoat or a drop cloth for what was certain to be a buckets of blood production. However, the producers are still trying to determine how to handle the violence from the book. “I don’t think we have any intention of making this a grindhouse musical, but we’re not going to shy away from this being intense as well.”
Singer says the project would probably not have come to fruition without its author, Bret Easton Ellis, a man not exactly known for holding his tongue on anything from film, to celebrity, to other authors’ work. Most recently, his screenplay for “The Canyons” was crowdfunded as a production for acclaimed screenwriter and director Paul Schrader, but “American Psycho” appears to have less of the inherent drama which plagued the sex-heavy, low-budget film starring Lindsay Lohan and adult film star James Deen.
“[Bret’s] been incredibly supportive–I think the world of him,” Singer says. It’s something of a collaboration with the author, Singer promising that he shares everything from the production with Ellis as it develops. Singer says that Ellis discussed the novel being about his time in 80’s New York in a society that the writer didn’t necessarily agree with: the coke-addled Reagan era of excess and the beginnings of the huge income gap between the rich and everyone else. Singer adds that the work still feels relevant given that increase in disparity today.
Right now, the Kickstarter campaign is at 60% of its goal, with four days left as of this writing. If you’re interested in seeing “American Psycho” come to the stage (with the possibility of going beyond London if there’s enough support), you should head over to its Kickstarter page.