The ‘American Psycho’ Musical Is Happening Whether You Like It or Not

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Duncan Sheik, the ’90s singer-songwriter ("Barely Breathing," in case you needed a reminder or, more likely, a name attached to that song), won two Tony Awards for his work on the sexy German schoolchildren musical Spring Awakening a few years ago. And he’s trying his hand at musical theater once again, this time with an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s modern classic, American Psycho. The musical will hit the London stage later this year, and hopefully will get a run on Broadway.

Gothamist talked to Sheik about his work on the show, which sounds a lot more promising than one might imagine:

The music is all electronic. You know, the conception of it, at least on my end… I kind of feel like, you have Broadway musicals, and you have the sound of the Broadway musicial—Les MisPhantom of the OperaCats—and then in some way there was a transition away from that. Spring Awakening [which Sheik scored and won a Tony for] happened, you had American IdiotNext To NormalMemphis… this whole set of things using more contemporary, guitar-oriented rock music. For me, I feel that’s a shark that’s been jumped. So the idea of doing a score that’s completely electronic, that’s exciting to me. You’re being progressive about the form, you know, rather than saying, ‘Well people like listening to rock music now in the theater.’ That’s not so interesting to me… it’s really important that you do new stuff. I want to attempt to do stuff that’s moving it forward. As opposed to repeating a successful formula.

At first, I thought, "Oh, no one should ever compare their musical theater ambitions to those who were responsible for Cats, Phantom, or Memphis, but I have to say: an electronic music-focused musical sounds pretty awesome, especially given the subject matter of the show. Oh, and don’t worry; Sheik promises a little Huey Lewis and Phil Collins in there, too. 

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Lin-Manuel Miranda on ‘Bring It On: The Musical’

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If every Tony Award-winning Broadway show was a country, Bring It On: The Musical would be the UN. Why? Because the creators behind this musical, a show loosely based on the movie of the same name, are the same people that have produced some of the decade’s most beloved Broadway musicals: Avenue Q, In the Heights, High Fidelity, and Next to Normal. So when you take out the puppets, add a bunch of cheerleaders, and stick them in two very contrasting high schools with very contrasting music to sing, dance, and cheerlead to, you get more than just drama; you get a show that teems with all the energy, comedy, and heart of its creators, but with a sound and style all its own. Here, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the co-composer and co-lyricist of Bring It On: The Musical and the writer of In the Heights, shares what he’s loved most about working on this show, why it’s record-breaking, and his experiences in high school. 

What was your first memory of seeing Bring It On the movie? What did you think?
I was in college, it was 2000, and I remember thinking, "Wow, this is a really funny movie." I had the same stereotypes about cheerleaders that most people who don’t grow up in that world have. What excited me most about working on this show was that our bookwriter Jeff Whitty didn’t want to adapt the original movie. He really wanted to take the world of competitive cheerleading and find what was stage-worthy in it. Jeff had an idea that was a totally different plot that, based on All About Eve with cheerleaders, which has been fantastic.

What is about cheerleaders that you find musically inspiring?
Well, they do what musicals do already; they dance to music. But they also do these incredible feats, like acrobatics, making cheerleading this weird nexus of athleticism and showmanship. It’s this weird world with its own rules, and it’s been fun immersing myself in that world for the past three years, and meeting some of our cast members who live in that world, who are just fucking indestructible.

While watching the show, I was thinking to myself: "What are these character breakdowns like?" To be in this show, you must have an incredible voice, acting skills, and you must be incredibly good looking and a pro cheerleader. Where do you find these people and how do they exist?
We do our best to delineate it so that each skill set is in its own track , but it’s crazy; we saw over 3,000 people and we cast 14 cheerleaders. And we have a very young cast. We have something like 32 Broadway debuts – which is a record. It’s exciting. For me, my last show on Broadway was my first show, In the Heights, so to get to experience that sort of energy with the next show has been a real joy because they’re all experiencing the Broadway community for the first time. It’s not a cliché; if you’re working at this level, you make friends with all the people in the shows around you, and it’s been a joy watching that happen.

For Bring It On, you’ve shared the writing room with Tom Kitt (Next to Normal, High Fidelity), Amanda Green (High Fidelity), and Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q). What’s the energy in there like?
Oh, well right now it’s funny because we’re really on the tail end of working on and changing the show, so everyone’s getting weepy and nostalgic. We’ve been writing this show pretty nonstop since 2009, which is super fast for a musical. In the Heights took seven years. What helped that go fast was that Jeff and director Andy Blankenbuehler had a really clear take on the story they wanted to tell. That takes a lot of the guesswork out of that. And divvying up duties was really fun. We thought that I’d write my songs and they’d write their songs, and we’d just meet in the middle, but that went away really quickly. 

Lin-Manuel MirandaHow separate and how interwoven was the collaboration? 
We started borrowing themes from each other pretty instantly, so Tom would take a theme from a song I did and interpolate it into one of his songs and vice versa. There are songs where Tom wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics, and songs where I took a pass at the lyrics and Amanda revised the lyrics, so we’ve worked in every combination; everyone’s fingerprints are on every song in the show. But it also helped us to write it faster. It helped us get closer to what our show sounds like, like, "Oh, that’s very much in this world."

"That’s the Bring It On sound."
Exactly.

Describe this show in just three words, what this show is really about.
Love of collaboration – though I’d hate to use one of my three on "of." What I love about this show is what I love about theatre; not one person can make a musical, you can’t do it by yourself. And not one person can make a cheerleading team. One of the things our main character learns is that she’s actually not in it to win first place at Nationals and win all these trophies. They don’t mean anything. What she finds is that she loves the joy of making something bigger than yourself, and that can only happen with other people. That’s very much how I feel about writing this show. The fact that this was a composing team means that I couldn’t have written this by myself, and they couldn’t have either. That was so much longer than three words.

I’ll take it, I’ll take it. The show pokes fun at a lot of high school cliques. What were you like as a high schooler?
I was definitely a floater. My wife and I joke about this because we socialize at different frequencies; if you put the two of us at a party, I’ll have five-minute conversations with everyone there, and she’ll have an hour-long conversation with one person. I always ran around a lot. I was always a theatre geek. I don’t remember school in terms of semesters; I remember it in terms of play in the fall, musical in the winter, original plays in the spring.

So you were writing shows even in high school?
Yes, we had plays that were written and directed by students. I would always write all year to try to get a play produced in the spring. I wrote two musicals and one play in my 10th, 11th, and 12th grade.

What was the first musical about that you wrote?
It was about a fetal pig that a kid dissected in bio coming back for revenge, and all of the kid’s other subconscious fears start to come out. My mom’s a psychologist. It was all very Freudian.