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The Great Gatsby

A person in a suit and bow tie on stage

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Jeremy Jordan (Photo: Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made)


The Great Gatsby


Reviewed by David Schultz


F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella, originally penned in 1925, has captivated audiences for so long that just the mention of the tale takes one back to high school. Stage productions and film adaptations have kept this work in the ear and eye of the public for over a hundred years -- even a daring off-Broadway staging, in which a slew of actors read the complete novel to impressive effect. This unusual treatment gave the tale a true taste of the author's distinctive voice. Sadly, that outsider voice and viewpoint have been oddly eradicated from this musical version.


Set in 1922, The Great Gatsby begins as World War I veteran Nick Carraway (Noah J. Ricketts) rents a small house in West Egg, Long Island, from fellow veteran Jay Gatsby (Jeremy Jordon). In the brief time since the War, Gatsby has mysteriously become a millionaire -- with a shady history. He throws decadent, raucous parties flowing with bootleg liquor and loads of strangers, yet rarely shows up.

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Noah J. Ricketts, Samantha Pauly, and the company of Paper Mill Playhouse's The Great Gatsby (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)


Just across the water, in the tonier village of East Egg, lives Nick's cousin Daisy (Eva Noblezada) who is married to Tom (John Zdrojeski) a philandering old-money cad with ice water in his veins. Tom is having an affair with the slatternly Myrtle s(Sara Chase), wife of local gas station owner George Wilson (Paul Witty).


Daisy pals around with her friend Jordon Baker (Samantha Pauly) a golf champion who is coolly blas about finding a man to marry. Daisy introduces Jordon to Nick, and the two are set up to attend another grand, over-the-top party across the water. Gatsby insists that Nick invite Daisy and Tom to his house as well. Turns out Gatsby has held a torch for Daisy since they were both younger and single and before he was sent off to war. His massive house is directly centered toward hers, with the famous green light on Daisy's dock facing him as a beacon of hope and thwarted desire unfulfilled.

A person and person sitting on a couch holding hands

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Jeremy Jordan, Eva Noblezada (Photo: Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made)



This classic tale would be better served if it were a straight play with incidental jazz-inflected music circa the 1920's. But this new work seems to be aiming for the New York stage. Book writer Kait Kerrigan has streamlined the novel and it does have a propulsive drive, but the complex inner workings of each character suffer as a result. It's necessarily a more simplistic rendering.


The romantic complexities are given short shrift. All the more pity since Jason Howland (music) and Nathan Tysen (lyrics) created the breathtaking Tony nominated musical Paradise Square a few seasons ago. The provenance of the creative team did give one high hopes. The musical numbers are serviceable, albeit workmanlike, with a few semi-showstoppers, but the musical numbers eventually bleed into each other creating a sameness as the evening drags on.


The wow factor of the evening rests upon the dazzling talents of the scenic and projection design by Paul Tate de Poo III. The swift, cinematic scene changes are frequent and artfully displayed, from Gatsby's Art Deco manse, to Nick's foliage wreathed cottage, to a seedy whorehouse in Harlem, to the garage and gas station. The pithy replica of the eye doctor billboard that famously was on the original cover of the 1922 novel, looms over the stage with ominous foreshadowing. The visuals pop, not to mention the yellow Rolls-Royce that makes an appearance on stage.


The sporadic dance sequences by choreographer Dominique Kelley are surprisingly ineffective and an oddly mounted tap dance section seems misplaced. Linda Cho's flapper 1920's costume design accurately captures the snazzy, delectable fashions of the day. Director Marc Bruni does what he can, marshalling his cast into a cohesive whole.


A group of people sitting at a table holding wine glasses

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Noah J. Ricketts, John Zdrojeski, Eva Noblezada Buchanan, Samantha Pauly (Photo: Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made)


Oddly, the majority of music is in Act 1, and the second act settles in with less music as the tragedy of the story unfolds. In Act 2, the musical becomes a serious drama with a shocking denouement. The lack of melodic moments gives this play - err, musical -- the heft it needs.


It will be intriguing to see what the future holds for this stage version of the 100-year-old Gatsby, and if momentum drives it to New York City.



The Paper Mill Playhouse,

22 Brookside Drive in Millburn New Jersey.

Through November 12th