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GATSBY MUSICAL LAYS AN EGG, EAST AND WEST

This review was written for “Blickpunkt Musical” the German magazine on international musical theater for which Mr. Dwyer is U.S. reviewer


Since F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” - one of the great American novels of the 20th century - fell out of copyright in 2021, musical versions have emerged. One, which will premiere at American Repertory Theatre (ART, one of the most influential regional theaters in the USA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts in June, is being developed by the creative team responsible for “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812”. Another, which premiered at the popular Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey last year capitalized by Korean producer Chunsoo Shin’s company, has arrived on Broadway in a dramatically incongruent and senselessly glitzy production. Whatever gets staged at ART has to be an improvement.


Gatsby’s story is legendary. Midwest native Nick Carraway (Noah J. Ricketts) arrives in 1922 New York; it’s Prohibition, society is high on illegal booze and jazz. A WWI vet, he’s in search of a new life, and takes a job as a bond salesman. . He rents a bungalow next-door to the grand estate of nouveau millionaire Jay Gatsby (Jeremy Jordan) and across the bay from his cousin Daisy Buchanan ( Eva Noblezada) and her philandering, snobby husband, Tom (John Zdrojeski.) Nick gets involved with Daisy’s world-weary friend, socialite and golfer, Jordan Baker (Samantha Paulry). Nick becomes witness to Gatsby’s doomed obsession with his former lover Daisy, the nature of Gatsby’s mysterious wealth, the shallowness of Buchanan's affluent life and the tragic end to Gatsby’s desperate, final attempt to do the right thing. Fitzgerald’s novel is not only a tragic love story but also a prescient observation of a society losing its values.


But playwright Kait Kerrigan’s adaptation - influenced by the 1974 and 2013 Hollywood movie versions - divulges its plot in predictable scene after scene. It’s ordinary language does not suggest any historical period apart from today; even it’s casual evocations of World War I and the Jazz Age play unconvincingly, What’s more, it’s overwhelming focus on Gatsby and Daisy’s “love story” leaves the dark subtexts of Fitzgerlad’s classic unacknowledged.


As for the title role,a terribly miscast Jeremy Jordan (breakout role in “Newsies” years ago) is saddled with a fake British accent, and the risible habit of ending most of his lines with the cliché “old boy.” Noblezada (“Saigon” revival) presents a Daisy who is charming enough, but it’s hard to tell just what drives Gatsby to obsession; his so-so ballad called “For Her” doesn’t do it. Ricketts has the largest role as narrator Nick Carraway, but it’s always better to “show than tell.”, which only serves to highlight the playwright’s reliance on a third-party observer to do the dramatic heavy lifting.


Music by Jason Howland (“Paradise Square”) fuels mostly noisy ensemble numbers or power ballads, which by making them loud, then louder, doesn’t make them any more memorable. Lyrics by Nathan Tysen (also “Paradise Square”) have all of the skill and charm of a run-on sentence, The ensemble numbers (the opening number ‘Roaring On”, “New Money,” “Only Tea,” “La Dee Dah with You,” and “Shady”) are all noise and tumult with little dramatic effect. The solos and duets are saddled with romantic platitudes easily forgotten. The very appealing Ricketts and Pauly, as romantic partners Nick and Jordan, have a typical musical comedy duet, “Better Hold Tight,” which is the best, stand-alone number in the whole show. But why?


Director Marc Bruni (“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”) rushes the narrative through dizzying scene changes. Choreographer Dominique Kelley moves the ensemble about busy party scenes with little purpose. Paul Tate dePoo III’s big,then even bigger, sets seem to mimic the production design of Baz Luhrmann’s lavish 2013 movie version. Linda Cho’s Tony-nominated costumes are flashy; attention to period detail is absent, but perhaps that’s well-suited to the cavernous dimensions of the Broadway Theatre.where this “Gatsby” is booked.


The show’s nadir comes at the end. Already, for two and half hours, there has been no evidence of the textures of Fitzgerald’s original work. Still, in the final scene, Nick delivers verbatim Fitzgerald’s trenchant conclusion, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” It is perhaps the most poignant and beautifully crafted sentence to end any American novel, but has no weight, no heft, here. Worse, that famous language is immediately punctuated - without irony - by a reprise of the glitzy number “Roaring On” that opened the show. F. Scott should be rolling over in his grave.



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