Alice Ripley & American Psycho

I’ve been reading a lot about how the theatre community thinks Alice Ripley is wasting her talents in her small roles in American Psycho. They’re pissed that her roles are barely-there and I have to say they’re pretty much unnecessary. The show would be the same whether or not Patrick Bateman’s mom showed up.

Ripley was last on Broadway in Next to Normal where she famously and award-winningly got to have mental breakdowns onstage every night. Rumor has it that she also blew her voice out pretty hard with the score. Whatever the case may be, American Psycho is her first return to a Broadway stage and people are pissed. They’re even going as far to say that she must be furious with how small her role is.

To the fans who don’t know how the industry works, let me just tell you: she didn’t take the part without reading the script first. No one tricked her into a small role. If she has an agent worth his or her salt, he/she negotiated a really good deal for her, what, with being a Broadway veteran and a Tony Award winner. That counts for something.

Equity weekly minimum is around $1,475 (I think) and with her credentials I’d bet she’s making at least $2,500 every week. You could offer me $2,500 every week for a small-ish role in a Broadway show and I’d sure as hell take it. I’m pretty sure most people would.

As the theatre crowd erupts in self-righteous anger over this I’d like to remind them that Ripley is a person and has bills to pay, too. And if she can still pay those bills while working on Broadway, who is anyone to tell her what role is beneath her? Oh, right: not you. Or me. Or anyone but herself.

/end rant

This is what being Patrick Bateman means to me. 

J and I went to see American Psycho on Tuesday night (remember when I waited on line in the freezing cold for like way-too-long?) and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d listened to the London cast recording a bunch of times on Spotify and loved a lot of what I’d been hearing, but who knows how it would transfer, right?

I’ve been lurking on the American Psycho Previews thread on BroadwayWorld and the buzz was that the first act was amazing but the second act dragged. I was excited to see how they’d handle the chunks of the book that included the mass murders of numerous prostitutes and how much blood, exactly, would be on that stage. I’d also heard the opening moment of the show was amazing. I was really excited but trying to keep my expectations low, anyways. 

Spoilers ahead!

The opening moment WAS cool. The stage was filled with smoke and there was screaming, but I wanted it to be more frightening. (Maybe they’ll up the scares during previews.) For those of you who saw the cast perform on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last week, well, Benjamin Walker is only in tighty-whiteys and looks like he’s eaten nothing but protein shakes since then. He looks good. He describes his morning routine and then the song Selling Out starts.   

I know Selling Out wasn’t in the London production and I have no idea how the show must’ve felt without it. It sets the feel for the entire show. These are a bunch of empty, shallow (albeit extremely well-dressed and good looking) people who care about all the wrong things and are extremely annoying.

I digress. Cards was the next great song. Theo Stockman is playing a completely different character from who he has played in the past (Hair, American Idiot) as the obnoxious colleague of Bateman’s Tim Price. J burst into a laughing fit as soon as he spoke his first lines because his voice is just that ridiculous. Another stand out was Drew Moerlein in his Broadway debut as another one of Bateman’s colleagues Paul Owen. He was as smug and overly expressive in that douchey way that only an investment banker on Wall Street can be. 

You Are What You Wear was an introduction to the women who (sometimes) occupy these men at night. Helene Yorke as Evelyn (Bateman’s girlfriend) and Morgan Weed as Courtney (Evelyn’s friend) outshine every other female on that stage with their comedic timing and portrayals of these socialites. I don’t think Yorke opened her mouth a single time that wasn’t answered with laughter from the audience.

Side note: Jennifer Damiano plays Bateman’s secretary, Jean, the same way she always plays her roles (Next to Normal being the exception). That said, she didn’t disappoint. Alice Ripley plays Bateman’s mother in addition to two other small roles and she’s great. She’s supposed to be a heavily medicated mother which she’s done before and won for a Tony for it, so: this is basically a walk in the park. 

The pre-written songs that Sheik wove into the show were seamless and worked without question. Everybody Wants to Rule the World and In the Air Tonight (this one sounded exceptionally spectacular) fit right in, as does Hip To Be Square at the end of the first act. 

The score is so very 80′s and it’s so much fun. Not a Common Man was one of my favorite songs of the first act and I Am Back and This Is Not an Exit were definitely my favorite in the second act. I had I Am Back in my head all day yesterday. 

There are LOTS of projections used in the show. And there are two turntables on the stage. Even though Les Miserables is referenced over and over (it was the hot thing in 1989!), the turn tables don’t make it feel like we’re watching Les Miserables at all. Don’t worry. Donald Trump is also referenced probably a dozen times, too, since he was a big thing especially to Wall Street douchebags. Trump is referenced three times as much in the book though. The producers couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time to transfer American Psycho to New York with this reference intact. 

So, the gore. There’s not a lot of blood in Act 1. He kills his first person at the end of Act 1 and there’s a decent amount of blood on the plastic scrim. I was really curious as to how they would get through all of the people he murders in the book and they handled it perfectly. Patrick Bateman has really loses his mind by Act 2 and after trying to clear it with a trip to the Hamptons accompanied by Evelyn, he returns to Manhattan (I Am Back) and goes on a killing spree. There’s lots of blood on people and the walls for this. Imagine a pile of dead bodies center stage and that’s how this song ends. It was a perfect way to get through a good 100 pages of the book that describe how he murders dozens of people.

Oh, and the sex. There’s a silly, but hysterical scene in Act 1 with simulated sex between two prostitutes and Bateman with ridiculous projections. I read that lots of people hated this but by the time the end of Act 1 rolls around, you’ve already forgotten it’s happened because you’re enjoying the rest of it so much.

The audience was largely a theatre crowd. You could tell that they hadn’t read the book because they gasped when Bateman invites Jean to his apartment before they see a show. She doesn’t die in the book and she doesn’t even have much of a role in the movie, so they would never have killed her off in this adaptation.

Benjamin Walker was so, so good. He’s a playing a character who is a genuinely bad person but I felt sorry for him at times, especially when he was being ignored. All Bateman wants is to fit in and he feels invisible; that’s just sad. He has a much better voice, in my opinion, than Matt Smith does and I hope they plan to record this soon (as far as I know, they don’t). 

It clocked in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, which is long, but the book is 400 pages and a vast majority of it is in Bateman’s mind. When he’s really losing coherence in Act 2, there’s a lot of dialogue to try to express this. He’s covered in blood, dressed in his tighty whiteys and he realizes there’s no way out (This Is Not An Exit). It’s a heavy second act, though I’m not sure what you could cut to make it shorter. 

You could say this is a representation of how society in America completely ignore mental illness if said-mentally ill person has an outward appearance that satisfies us. Even if that person tells us they’re going out of their minds and want to kill people, we’re more likely to say, “great joke!” than take it seriously. Bateman’s pleas for help are ignored by his friends and family. 

To say I had a good time at American Psycho is an understatement. Is it a perfect show? No. Is it for everyone? No. I could imagine the New York Times panning it’s non-traditional but I hope word-of-mouth and the cult following that the book and movie have can make it a hit. 

There was a great energy inside the theatre on Tuesday night and I hope they can sustain the momentum they’ve been building and take your average Broadway audience by surprise.

This weekend I’m working on making a portfolio for a job interview that’s coming up and while going through lots of old college stuff, I found this super old set list from a 2004 Ripley the Band gig at The Red Lion.

My friend and I were certainly not 21, being college freshman and all, but we pulled strings where we knew we could (or she did, mostly) and got in to multiple concerts there when we were many, many moons from being of age. 

I’ve been waiting to see a staged production of The Last Smoker in America since first hearing selections from the score in 2005. Alice Ripley and my brilliant friend Nick Cearley, among others, were singing songs by the fantastic Bill Russell at The Duplex (I believe) in 2005 (or it could’ve been 2006, I can’t remember).

Taking place in a distant America where smoking laws are incredibly strict and smokers are being punished with with jail time, Pam, the last smoker in America, is trying hard to quit and also be there for her family. Easy laughs are garnered whenever possible, but there is also a lot of heart in this 90-minute musical jaunt through smoke-free time. 

I was sad when I realized that Russell had cut the song “I’ve Got a Gun” (click to see Nick Cearley sing a jazzy version of the song in 2010). It was one of my favorites and instead of Jimmy, Pam’s son, being a sugar and video game addicted kid in need of ritalin, his character was turned into a wanna-be thug. Not nearly as funny, if you ask me.

Farah Alvin (Pam) channels her inner crazy effectively, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little curious as to how Ripley would’ve handled the character. John Bolton (as Pam’s husband, Ernie) was almost equally as crazy but also comical because his character was a failed wanna-be rockstar. Jake Boyd (as Jimmy) did his best with the re-written character but sometimes it was simply unbelievable that he’d want to be a thug. Providing the most laughs was Natalie Venetia Belcon as their anti-smoking, adulterating neighbor Phyllis. 

The Last Smoker is a quick, entertaining 90 minutes in an off-Broadway theatre.

https://www.tumblr.com/audio_file/thatgirlallison/731360931/tumblr_l4itp6U4dI1qzs9hr?plead=please-dont-download-this-or-our-lawyers-wont-let-us-host-audio

Two weeks ago my friend Nick Cearley had a concert honoring the music of Bill Russell called Still Bill at The Canal Room in Tribeca.  He packed the venue to the brim and entertained friends and fans alike mostly with songs by Mr. Russell and a few originals too.  The above MP3 (watch the video here) is one of the songs written by Nick and Rock of Ages’ Lauren Molina.  

Oy, is a song that Nick and Lauren wrote a while ago while lamenting their agony over not being Jewish and able to properly use the word “oy.”  It’s hilarious, just listen and you’ll agree, I promise.  

I’ve known Nick since 2006 and I’ve seen him perform in many Duplex-like venues but to watch him fill such a large space with his presence and energy was quite a treat.  Nick performed songs from Side Show, Elegies From Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens, and the soon-to-be-off-Broadway Last Smoker in America.   Alice Ripley even backed him up on drums for one song (replacing her husband, Shannon Ford, who was drumming for most of the show).  It was a smorgasbord of Bill Russell’s incredible music sung by fantastic talent.  

I’m still waiting for Nick to take Broadway by storm, but I know it’ll happen soon.  Until then, he’ll just have to keep dominating the cabaret circuit.