By Cameron Hughes

The spectacular new musical The Great Gatsby opened tonight at The Broadway Theatre (it premiered last year at New Jersey’s the Paper Mill Playhouse where it had a sold-out run).  It’s an entertaining, spectacular ride.

Adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel have a checkered past. The book was (initially) a commercial failure compared to Fitzgerald’s previous efforts. Respect for this literary classic grew over the years and there have been many adaptations including the misfire of Jack Clayton’s 1974 film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Baz Luhrmann’s imaginative 2013 effort fares somewhat better, though like Clayton’s version, it lacks the soul of the novel. This satisfying musical take on the classic story elevates the drama to Shakespearean levels.

The plot stays close to the novel. Nick Carraway (Noah J. Ricketts) rents a cottage from Jay Gatsby (Jeremy Jordan) in West Egg hoping to pursue his fortune in New York. His cousin Daisy Buchanan (Eva Noblezada) lives in East Egg with her husband Tom Buchanan (John Zdrojeski) and their infant daughter. Gatsby was in love with Daisy before the war but because he was poor, Daisy’s wealthy father forbade the marriage and they parted when Gatsby left to serve. Years later Gatsby has made his fortune and builds a mansion across the bay from Daisy. He arranges for Nick to invite Daisy to his cottage for tea, allowing Gatsby to drop in “casually” and hopefully rekindle their relationship. The fact that Daisy’s husband Tom is a philanderer makes it easier for Daisy to consider Gatsby’s pursuit of her, a pursuit with horrific consequences. A romance also forms between Nick and Daisy’s best friend, golfer Jordan Baker (Samantha Pauly).

Things get off to a slow start in the first act. Though staged and performed well, the energy is somewhat subdued. Part of this may be due to the sound design by Brian Ronan which is at times a bit murky and lacking clarity, especially in the lead voices which don’t always rise about the chorus. Some of the songs don’t fully engage either with a score that occasionally meanders. Eva Noblezada as Daisy Buchanan takes a while to find her footing, but when she does she gives us a fully-formed Daisy filled with motivation and subtext. By the time she sings “Beautiful Little Fool” we understand the difficult choices she’s made and the toll they’ve taken. Fortunately things pick up noticeably in the second act as Gatsby’s doomed infatuation propels the show toward it’s inevitable and tragic conclusion.

These are nuanced, memorable performances. Not only does Jordan make Gatsby his own with a perfect blend of naivete, vulnerability, arrogance, ambition, and effective physical comedy, his singing is an absolute wonder. Jordan has the amazing ability to slide flawlessly into falsetto and back with a seamlessness which must be heard to be believed. Equally impressive is the scenic and projection design by Paul Tate dePoo III which almost steals this well-executed show. At times video projection can be a jarring disconnect, almost a cheat, but it’s hard to argue with the stunning results achieved here. These projections form a cohesive whole with the set pieces and it’s hard to imagine this brilliant grandeur being achieved in any other way. Other highlights include Ricketts’ deft performance and singing as Nick, and Samantha Pauly’s impressive and seemingly effortless acting; her singing too is among the strongest voices here.

The jazz and pop influenced original score by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen (with lyrics by Nathan Tysen) strikes the right swinging musical note here, avoiding the awkward contemporary clashes of Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film. Standouts include “New Money,” “The Met,” “Past Is Catching Up To Me,” and “La Dee Dah With You.” Not all of the numbers sizzle, but those that do are wonderful.

This is a surprisingly enjoyable telling of the familiar story. Recommended.

 

The Great Gatsby is based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald with direction by Marc Bruni, a book by Kait Kerrigan, choreography by Dominique Kelley, lyrics by Nathan Tysen, and score by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen.

With: Jeremy Jordan (Jay Gatsby), Eva Noblezada (Daisy Buchanan), Noah J. Ricketts (Nick Carraway), Samantha Pauly (Jordan Baker), Sara Chase (Myrtle Wilson), John Zdrojeski (Tom Buchanan), Paul Whitty (George Wilson), and Eric Anderson (Meyer Wolfsheim).

Creative Team: Kait Kerrigan (book), Jason Howland (music), Nathan Tysen (lyrics), Paul Tate dePoo III (scenic & projection designer), Linda Cho (costume designer), Cory Pattak (lighting designer), Brian Ronan (sound designer), Rachael Geier & Charles G. LaPointe (hair & wig designers), Ashley Ryan (makeup designer), Jason Howland & Kim Scharnberg (orchestrations), Daniel Edmonds (music director & additional arrangements), John Miller (music coordinator), Dominique Kelley (choreographer), Marc Bruni (director), and Chunsoo Shin (producer).

The Great Gatsby playing at The Broadway Theatre (53rd Street & Broadway, New York, NY 10019). Running time is 2 hours 30 minutes including one intermission. Performances are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:00pm, Thursday and Saturdays at 8:00pm, with matinees Sundays at 3:00pm, and Thursdays and Saturdays at 2:00pm. Tickets are available here.