The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ubiquitous and critically acclaimed novel, gets a musical makeover with obvious sites on Broadway. This glossy dissection of a corrosive American dream features notable Broadway, film, and TV talent, including Jeremy Jordan (Dolly Parton‘s grandson in our holiday favorite Joyful Noise) and Eva Noblezada, powerhouse vocalist who just completed a multi-year run in Hadestown.
Presented across the Hudson River at Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, New Jersey, the regional theater has previously incubated several shows before Broadway transfers, including Newsies (also starring Jordan) and Honeymoon in Vegas. Given the star power and hefty budget, producers hope this party will eventually roar and roll its way onto the Main Stem.
No Tea, No Shade
Nearly 100 years ago, The Great Gatsby entered the literature world with a meager whimper. Fitzgerald, who was already an established writer, had hoped that his book would make him solvent, but it was met with middling critical reviews and a commercial flop. Oh! If F. Scott could see it now. Since its publication, The Great Gatsby has been embraced by scholars and students, translated into 42 languages, and received four major film adaptations, the most recent being Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.
It’s also been a favorite for theater makers, having been transferred to a Broadway play shortly after the novel’s debut. An immersive and interactive Gatsby experience of the same spirit as Sleep No More recently came to New York after playing to sold-out crowds in London. Next year, Florence Welch of the indie-rock group Florence + the Machine will lend her composition skills to another musical production at Harvard’s American Repertory Theater. There have been off-Broadway, opera, and dance pieces in between, all inspired by one relatively short novella.
It’s easy to understand the love for Gatsby. On the surface, the universally human and relatable story of aspiration, lost love renewed and lost again, regret, doubt, fear, and ultimate tragedy give way to circumstances that aren’t exactly what they seem. Oh, the drama!
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Jay Gatsby (Jeremy Jordan) lives a life of ostentatious, curious wealth in a swanky part of Long Island. How did he get so rich? You’ll find out in due course. He loves to throw parties but sometimes doesn’t even attend himself. His new neighbor, Nick Carraway (Noah J. Ricketts, To My Girls), is a Yale grad whose cousin and known socialite Daisy Buchanan (Eva Noblezada) was a one-time flame for Jay.
But now, Daisy is married to Tom (John Zdrojeski), an abusive, world-class *sshole. Despite giving off Patty Sheehan vibes, Daisy’s friend, Jordan Baker (Samantha Pauly), responds to Nick’s romantic advances. Tom, known for his infidelities, carries on with the dim gas station owner’s wife, Myrtle Wilson (Sara Chase). Parties ensue. Secrets are revealed. And a knock-down fight a la Dreamgirls at the Plaza Hotel, coupled with an automobile accident, ruin an otherwise perfect evening.
Let’s Have a Moment
Thirst trap, stage veteran, and Tony nominee Jordan is solid as leading man Jay Gatsby. Audiences may recognize his screen credits, which include The Last Five Years, Supergirl, and Smash, in addition to the Dolly Parton gig. His voice is in top form, and he carries the swagger of a well-heeled money man.
Fellow Tony nominee Noblezada’s grounding presence and gorgeous voice captivate. Her finest moment comes near the musical’s end with a regretful number, “Beautiful Little Fool.”
Ricketts, recently seen in the comedy Summoning Sylvia, who also appears in Showtime’s anticipated drama Fellow Travelers, is a dashing Nick who straddles complicity with contempt and is one of the most rational characters here. He also serves as the story’s narrator. The rest of this fine cast sounds great and looks even better in Linda Cho’s Prohibition-era costumes.
The Last Word
Paul Tate DePoo III has invented a visually sumptuous locale through his scenic and projection designs, combined with Cory Pattak’s vivid lighting. It’s a world we’d all want to inhabit (minus that fatal car crash). Jason Howland’s score delivers some catchy numbers, but some overly earnest ballads occasionally slow down the action or stretch the characters beyond the moment — even for a musical.
Howland’s score (which he also orchestrated) might benefit from some bigger brass or clearer nods to jazz and blues, while Nathan Tysen’s serviceable lyrics fail to mine the depths of the source material for those singing them. But the musical’s most obvious obstacle is Kait Kerrigan’s book, which often sidesteps Fitzgerald’s original text, which is rich with cultural themes — albeit difficult ones — that could offer a deeper explanation of who these characters are and their questionable actions.
Still, it’s a solid party. With some polishing, Gatsby could gleam brightly on Broadway.
The Great Gatsby runs at Paper Mill Playhouse through November 12, 2023.
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