You’d hardly expect the words American Psycho and musical theater to be used in the same sentence, but a stage adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial novel has opened at London‘s Almeida Theater. And, surprisingly, it’s a pretty faithful interpretation of the source material.
The show stars Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame as the maniacal serial killer Patrick Bateman, who epitomizes the corporate greed and materialism of ’80s Wall Street. Under Rupert Goold’s direction — and featuring music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik — the darkly funny and disturbingly violent story is played out on a stylish set where the “hardbodies” of Ellis’s imagination focus on money, sex and style. Many of the book’s conversations and interactions are reenacted on stage — Psycho fans will recognize Patrick’s fixation on getting a reservation at the trendy restaurant Dorsia, maintaining the perfect tan and boasting the best business card.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Ellis’s novel has been adapted. In 2000, Mary Harron directed a film version starring Christian Bale. The movie took some liberties with the book — a lot of pivotal character interactions and scenes were left out. The stage version, however, is a more faithful adaptation of Ellis’s story, delving into the nuances in some of Patrick’s relationships with his colleagues, friends and secretary.
But adaptations, by their very nature, can deviate from the original. Here are four key ways that the American Psycho musical differs from Ellis’s novel:
1. There’s music
Obvious, yes, but the stage production’s tunes really do shift the tone of the whole story. While the music is great at incorporating Patrick Bateman’s obsession with pop music — Sheik mixes a lot of classic ’80s tracks into his original songs — it also gives an extra comedic bump to a storyline already laden with black humor. The result is an emphasis on the comedy — particularly its pointed swipe at consumerism — but the dark edge found in both the Ellis’s book and the movie adaptation is stifled.
2. There’s no Bethany
Characters are often nixed or conflated in adaptations and Patrick’s ex-girlfriend Bethany doesn’t make it into the musical. (She also didn’t appear onscreen in the film, though Patrick does reference her.) This is both a disappointment and a relief. Her appearance in the book is pretty significant as it thoroughly rattles Patrick, which provides deeper insight into the character’s insecurities. On the other hand, things don’t end well for Bethany as she’s victim to one of Patrick’s more gruesome crimes that is so unpleasant to read, we don’t even want to imagine what it’d look presented on stage.
3. There’s a lot more to the other female characters
The women in Patrick’s life such as his secretary Jean, his fiance Evelyn and even his mother get more focus on stage than they did in the book. Jean and Evelyn, for example, both appear in scenes without Patrick, which helps shape their characters and gives the audience more of a chance to empathize with their characters. The musical version of Jean, in particular, has a bit more spunk and personality than book Jean. Considering the numerous charges of misogyny the book faced upon its release, the subtle but noticeable change is welcome.
4. It’s drastically less violent
Of course, it would be nearly impossible to reenact the amount of gore found in Ellis’ novel. Even the film adaptation doesn’t come close to the extreme levels of violence found in the book and the stage version isn’t half as violent as the film. Some people will likely be relieved by this and others disappointed, but anyone with a queasy stomach will certainly enjoy the musical more.