“I live 75 yards from the stage door of the MLT,” says Fred Anthony Marco, who wrote the book and lyrics for “The Great Gatsby: An American Musical,” which has its world premiere on Friday, June 23, at Marblehead Little Theatre.
“It was not planned, but you got to pay attention to fate.” Living adjacent to the theater is very convenient, he adds. “I can just shoot right over during rehearsals.”
The musical has had a long creative gestation, says Marco, who was a professional actor in New York City for 28 years. More than two decades, in fact, and was born from a prompt in a BMI musical theater workshop.
“They told us to write a song for a character, and since I always loved the book, I chose Daisy Buchanan [Jay Gatsby’s lover],” Marco explains. “Maybe I’m a feminist at heart, but I always felt that she got short shrift in the book. I gave her character a heart.”
One song led to writing the first act of what would become “The Great Gatsby: An American Musical.” There was even a staged reading in Manhattan. But due to legal complications and the astronomical cost of securing the rights, the project was shelved for 20 years, he says.
Everything changed, however, when “The Great Gatsby” entered the public domain in 2021 after the 95-year United States copyright was up. At that point, Marco decided that the time was right to revisit the once-promising and never-forgotten project. So he dusted off the script, reached out to composer Frank Schiro, whom he had met at the workshop years ago, and said, “Let’s get crackin’.”
Because “the storytelling was solid,” only minor tweaks were needed, he explains. Now the next big challenge was to find a theater to stage the musical.
He chuckles as he recalls the reaction of his Marblehead friend Doug Hill, one of the show’s producers, when he approached him with the book and lyrics.
“Little did I know he was a Fitzgerald aficionado,” Marco says. “I’m sure he was internally rolling his eyes when I gave it to him and said, ‘All right I’ll read it.’”
And the rest is history.
Marveling at how smoothly the musical coalesced, Marco says thoughtfully, “I believe that when things fall into place you have to pay attention and this did. I know writers who can paper their walls with rejections, myself included. I showed this script to literally one person — Doug — and the team, including director Alexandra Dietrich, music director David Flowers and choreographer Will Fafard, just came together.”
Dietrich adds, “The wonderful thing about directing a world premiere is that you get to set the vision that the audience sees, what the characters get to do. The hitch is that this is ‘The Great Gatsby,’ the first piece of literature many people were exposed to in high school,” and they carry their own interpretations of this story.
“I think our cast is approaching this material with fresh takes on why someone would stay in a relationship that isn’t going anywhere as Daisy does,” continues Dietrich, who directed “Jesus Christ Superstar” for MLT four years ago. “Love has been paused for one person and not paused for another. Jay Gatsby goes to war and thinks that Daisy will be there for him when he returns. These are two people who don’t live life at the same speed. I think Fred and Frank did a wonderful job of giving the character of Daisy more depth than past adaptations.”
Marco characterizes his hopes about the new musical as grounded and realistic. Of course, if it makes its way to Broadway, it would be a dream come true. In the meantime, he has reached out to 21 regional theaters about the musical.
“I am open to a regional transfer,” he says. “I’m trying to let go of results and doing my due diligence. This is an incredible gift that the MLT has given me. I would have to sell a kidney if I wanted to do this in New York City!”
“The Great Gatsby, An American Musical” will run June 23 to July 2 at Marblehead Little Theatre, 12 School St. For more information, visit mltlive.com.