American Psycho the Musical: When Performance meets Digital Art

American Psycho the musical has recently started playing on Broadway, and while much has been written about the bloody scenes, the fashion, and the gorgeous bodies of the cast, very little has been written about how the show is a very unique example that melds digital and analog art.

The musical is based on the novel American Psycho, which was also a movie starring Christian Bale. It comes with an electronic music-based score by Duncan Sheik with some samplings of songs from the 1980s to give it that throwback feel. The cast, when clothed, wear costumes reminiscent of the 80s. When half-naked with white towels or white underwear, the men, in particular, showcase well-toned bodies. The choreography for the dances smell of Lady Gaga (monster era) and Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance, with additional hip-swinging that is quite hypnotizing. The dialog is peppered with light Democratic humor and several New York jokes.

While I could go on to praise the all of the elements above (other than the music and lyrics, which were pretty nondescript), one thing that was very striking to me was the use of digital art, which was incorporated into the set and lighting in such a way that each scene felt like a statement of visual and performance art. If the pop art era were happening right now- if Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, or video artist Baek Nam June were to design a musical, this is what it would look like. For example, in many of the song and dance numbers, the entire stage became a palette for digital art– mostly in the form of graffiti-like flashing words, but also incorporating snippets of historical video and the broadcasting static that only comes from non-digital transmission.

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The set design is stark and simple, but the videos and digital art transform the white walls into a hybrid digital art palette. (The London production, from Es Devlin’s website)

 

 

The genius work of set designer Es Devlin, lighting designer Justin Townsend, and video designer Finn Ross has been completely overshadowed by the blood and sex, at least from a media coverage perspective. Not that any of these three individuals need the additional press coverage, but this is the type of staging that is so different from traditional musical theater and should be getting more attention, in my opinion. While the story and music don’t really create a milestone in the history of musical theater, the incorporation of video, digital art, and the stage as being a well-amalgamated product of analog and digital, 2D and 3D, takes the brick and mortar element of live performance to a new level.

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These photos are from the 2013 London production, but not that different from the NY production. I tried to put in the links to the individual images but couldn’t do so because her website uses Flash. (see Esdevlin.com)

 

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