“Be true to yourself. Money can’t buy you love. Be careful of the company you keep.” These are all axioms and ideas baked into “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel, a kind of Shakespearian tragedy and a cautionary tale. And now, it’s an American musical that had its world premiere on Friday night at Marblehead Little Theatre.
Within the narrative labyrinth of “The Great Gatsby,” we follow the perspective of narrator Nick Carraway, who finds himself living in close proximity to the wealthy and enigmatic Jay Gatsby, portrayed by James White. Gatsby is set on winning Carraway’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan, played by Michelle Moran. However, Daisy is tethered to Tom Buchanan, who harbors a secret relationship with his mistress, Myrtle. When Myrtle dies, Gatsby is at the center of suspicion.
The New York Times critic-at-large Wesley Morris provides an even more concise plot summary: “Gatsby meets Daisy when he’s a broke soldier and senses that she requires more prosperity, so five years later he returns as almost a parody of it. The tragedy here is the death of the heart, capitalism as an emotion. “
Starring a talented cast of actors and actresses, the musical adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” brings to life the iconic characters and themes of the novel on stage. They are supported by a cast including Erin Anderson as the quick-witted, self-assured Jordan Baker, Keith Robinson as the moral compass Carraway, Howie Reith as the arrogant Buchanan, AJ Macrina as the desperate George Wilson, and Ariel Sargent as Myrtle Wilson.
Writer Fred Anthony Marco of Marblehead and composer Frank Schiro have done a commendable job of maintaining the essence of the novel’s original characters while also allowing for the emotive elements that musicals typically provide.
Alexandra Dietrich’s direction, David Flowers’ musical direction and Will Fafard’s choreography all blend together to retell this timeless story in an innovative way. The producers, Andrew Barnett, Steve Black and Doug Hill, have managed to faithfully recreate the world of the “Eggs” of Long Island, immersing the audience in the excess and glamour of 1922.
From melodies of hopeful love to somber ballads of loss and regret, the performers — whether in a solo, duet or ensemble — deliver lyrics with measured control, vibrato and rich texture. The show’s company and the accompanying orchestra, which played on the second floor of the MLT, capture the energetic and hedonistic revelry of a Gatsby party and the atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties, in a stripped-back, simplistic set created by Jeremy Barnett.
Present realities and past dreams clash in “I Think That Could Happen Today” when Daisy and Gatsby meet for the first time since they parted ways five years prior. Marco effectively strings lyrics that juxtapose Gatsby’s unyielding hope for a rekindled relationship and Daisy’s reluctance to move on from the comfortable.
“Poetry is fine, Jay, but we’ve crossed a line/ It’s a different day / Our die is cast,” she sings to him. “Can’t relive the past / Sweet talk won’t wash that away / What we had was gorgeous / I will never forget / And though you glow as bright as day, our sun has long since set.” Gatsby’s gin and tonic is brimming, while Daisy’s is less than half full.
The reunion is held at Carraway’s modest cottage abutting Gatsby’s mansion. He plays an instrumental role in setting up this reunion, and it’s a tipping point of sorts, a plunge into the story’s darker second half that will end with three people dead. As the first act nears an end, Carraway steps back to reflect on his role in this emotional reunion.
“As I took my long walk in the rain that day,” Carraway tells us, “I rolled over and over in my mind whether it was wisdom or folly to let them meet in my home.”
Robinson’s standout portrayal gives Carraway a genuine charm, the observant eye through which the audience experiences the glittering world of excess and underlying moral decay that is the backdrop to Gatsby’s tragic story.
Daisy’s song, “The Girl I Left Behind,” gives us a glimpse into her inner turmoil, her change from the girl she once was in the Midwest to the socialite she is now. In contrast to previous adaptations, this addition by Marco and Dietrich adds a layer to Daisy’s backstory that the novel only hints at. But at the end of the day, no matter how much you humanize her, there is not much to like after she pushes her shot at redemption to the side.
Gatsby’s story is paralleled by Ariel Sargent’s heartbreaking portrayal of Wilson, who, like Gatsby, seeks a way out of her current life circumstances in pursuit of love, or maybe lust?
“The Great Gatsby: An American Musical” invites us to reflect on the timeless lessons and warnings found within Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. We are reminded to stay true to ourselves, to choose our associations wisely and to understand that money can never truly buy happiness or love.
All nine performances at the Marblehead Little Theatre, 12 School St., spanning from June 23 to July 2, have been sold out.