June 2024


The Lure of the Green Light:
The Great Gatsby on Broadway

Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold

And so we beat on, boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly into the past.

With this indelible image F. Scott Fitzgerald closes his 1925 novel,
The Great Gatsby, and these lines also close the new musical, which has just opened on Broadway, based on Fitzgerald’s work. The theatre piece with a book by Kate Kerrigan, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Nathan Tysen is yet another adaptation of Fitzgerald’s classic, following in the footsteps of among many - two iconic movies, the 1999 John Harbison opera - and preceding another musical in the works now. The fascination with the doomed Romantic Jay Gatsby and his Jazz Age world on the brink of collapse continues to lure audiences almost one hundred years later.

Yet, while the new Broadway show adheres literally to Fitzgerald’s book in plot and in reverential retention of the most famous passages, it veers from the spirit of the novel. Characters and motivations are softened; the tone of cool observation the novel maintains by seeing events through Nick Carraway’s eyes is forsaken for more immediacy and overt passion, and the overwhelming sense of ennui that pervades the Buchanans’ world is submerged in extroverted musical theatre numbers that signal the abandon and excess of the era. For someone who is a devotee of the novel, it takes several scenes to adjust to the shift and to allow the musical to speak in its own voice.  Once that happens, the viewer can enjoy the production on its own terms, and there is much to savor.

The music and lyrics are serviceable and stage savvy, allowing the vocally strong cast of principals to each have moments to shine,  Despite the numerous opportunities for big production numbers, it is the more introspective moments that tend to shine – the ballads like Gatsby’s “For Her” or his duet with Daisy “My Green Light.” 

Marc Bruni directs with a sure hand knowing how to maximize dramatic impact, especially in the searing climax of the work, but he never gets the cast to conjure up the careless people …..smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. Instead, he creates a more sympathetic world in which Gatsby and Daisy are a pair of star -crossed lovers in a romantic tragedy.  Dominique Kelley’s choreography takes advantage of the striking set and the razzle dazzle of the period to create lively dance moments, which, while de rigeur in musicals, somehow seem at odds with the more measured tenor of Fitzgerald’s work.

Paul Tate DePoo III’s visual production with lighting by Cory Pattak is lush and stunning, using video and projections to change locales and moods seamlessly. The glitter of the period contrasts effectively with the atmospheric moments of yearning or the gritty neon reality of the Valley of Ashes. Linda Cho’s costumes are appropriately glamorous, eye-catching and opulent.

The eight principals and twenty person ensemble bring an electric energy and commitment to the piece.  As Jay Gatsby, Jeremy Jordan turns in a performance worthy of his legendary status. He is both endearing and elusive, idealistic and misguided, and he delivers a master class in musical theatre singing.  His solo numbers are mesmerizing, and his duets are ardent and passionate.  Eva Noblezada matches him vocally with power, intensity and warmth, but her Daisy seems too soft and likeable.  Similarly, Samantha Pauly plays Jordan Baker as an outspoken, liberated woman rather than the dishonest, self -interested, aloof character of the novel.  Noah J. Ricketts as Nick gives a compelling vocal performance with  memorable moments in “Roaring On” and “The Met,” but his transformation from naïve acolyte in Daisy’s world to disillusioned realist is not as gripping as it should be .

The supporting characters are all well-limned.  John Zdrojeski is suitably brutish as Tom Buchanan; Sara Chase makes an especially heart wrenching Myrtle Wilson; Paul Whitty is poignant as her betrayed husband George, and Eric Anderson as Meyer Wolfsheim gets a darkly comic moment in “Shady” to regal the audience with his song and dance talents.

Judging by the Broadway audience response shortly after opening, The Great Gatsby continues to lure audiences into its world.  Like the elusive green light on Daisy’s dock, the tale of a hopeless romantic poised on the brink of destruction in a post-world-war gone mad seems timeless in its ability to capture the imagination.  If this latest musical theatre version is not a pristine rendering of Fitzgerald’s novel, perhaps that is because Fitzgerald’s protagonist Gatsby is so very elusive.  The sadly noble Romanticism of the character, his dissonance with a world that is empty and ugly, and his obsessive quest stand in sharp contrast to the hedonistic, self-serving amorality of the Buchanans’ world. But without the ability that Nick Carraway ultimately achieves to shed the rose-colored glasses and accept a hard, cold reality, Gatsby becomes a tragic hero.  And in his loneliness and isolation, standing at the end of his dock, reaching out to the green light, he becomes a powerful symbol of both unfulfilled dreams and eternal hope.

The Great Gatsby is currently playing at the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, NY, NY


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Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold 's new book is Round Trip Ten Stories (Weiala Press). Her reviews and features have appeared in numerous international publications. She is a Senior Writer for Scene 4. For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2024 Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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