When it comes to writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, Doug Hill jokes half-seriously that he is “somewhat obsessed.” The past president of Marblehead Little Theatre considers himself something of an aficionado of the American novelist whose books and short stories examined and celebrated the exuberance and dissipation of the Jazz Age.
So when Hill’s friend, Fred Anthony Marco, presented him with a script last spring transforming “The Great Gatsby” into a musical, something which had never been done before, Hill’s expectations were somewhat subdued, to say the least. After all, the novel has been adapted four times—and counting—into big-budget films including Robert Redford and Mia Farrow’s 1974 version and most recently Leonardo DiCaprio’s take in 2013. What more could be said about this iconic novel, Hill wondered. And a musical?!
But what he read took his breath away. Marco’s script had done the nearly impossible, Hill recalls. “It was an original and fresh take on the story. Fred’s script moved quickly and beautifully and really pulled you in,” he says. “It didn’t take long to convince me to get onboard.”
Fast forward a year and Tuesday, May 16, the cast of “The Great Gatsby: An American Musical” will gather at the Marblehead Little Theater on School Street for its first rehearsal with Marco’s script, music by Frank Schiro, choreography by Will Fafard and direction by Alexandra Dietrich.
The next night, the Abbot Public Library hosted a discussion moderated by Library Director Kimberly Grad on “The Great Gatsby” with Hill, who is one of the three producers, along with Andrew Barnett and Steve Black. Lyricist and book writer Fred Anthony Marco was also there.
Now that Fitzgerald’s novel is considered “public domain” the creators were not faced with the arduous process of securing rights and paying royalties, Hill explained, so the time was right. Plus, no one had ever attempted to tell the ill-fated love story of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan through music and dance.
Hill recounts being contacted by Grad, whom he met when he was on the committee to select the town’s new director of the library. “She reached out to me and said she heard that the MLT was doing ‘The Great Gatsby’ and that she would love to have a discussion about the production at the library. That’s the beauty of this community. We are all connected and there is such wonderful alignment.”
“I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason,” he adds. “We’re doing a show that’s never been done before right here at the Marblehead Little Theatre.”
Hill has nothing but praise for the team that is putting the musical together. From the caliber of the talented ensemble cast to the unique and captivating set design by Jeremy Barnett and spot-on direction by Dietrich. “That’s the beauty of community theater. We’ve brought together a creative team that is absolutely in sync.”
Hill traces his love of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s oeuvre to his years serving in the American Air Force. “I’ve always been an avid reader. When I was stationed in Turkey, I read everything of his I could get my hands on.” That included the letters Fitzgerald wrote to his wife and muse Zelda as well as memoirs and biographies.
Hill marvels at how this novel written in 1925 continues to captivate and engage readers. It is
surprisingly fresh and its themes of greed, power, the American dream and wealthy narcissistic characters are not dated at all in our celebrity-obsessed culture. “This book, written nearly 100 years ago, still sells 500,000 copies a year. When Fitzgerald wrote it, barely 25,000 copies were sold. That means something.”
Hill grew up in a military family and also served in the Air Force for 20 years. He states he bounced around all over the world before settling in Marblehead in 1985 when he became smitten with the charm and natural beauty of the town while visiting a friend.
Once he became a resident, he began attending MLT productions and even appeared onstage in several productions including “South Pacific” before assuming the role of MLT president not once but twice. In 1999, he was instrumental in securing and restoring the firehouse on School Street from the town as the MLT’s permanent home. “It was a great fit for everyone,” he says of the move.
His enthusiasm for the theater and the town is palpable. “This is a town where anything can happen. It’s not a typical place. People are so supportive of the theater.”
Hill is tickled about being part of the creative team bringing his favorite writer’s masterpiece to the musical stage. “People will experience the pull of the novel. It’s been anointed. It just captures the times, the Jazz Age, so perfectly.”
He is looking forward to see how Dietrich will present the characters, whom he admits are not very admirable. “These are not good people,” he concurs, adding that his favorite is Nick Carraway, the narrator.
“The Great Gatsby, An American Musical” will run June 23 to July 2. For more information, visit mltlive.org.