‘The Great Gatsby’ Broadway Review: Tap Dance, You Sinning Bootleggers, Tap Dance!

Maybe it’s time to call a moratorium on turning F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel into movies and musicals

Jeremy Jordan in "The Great Gatsby"
Jeremy Jordan in "The Great Gatsby" (Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

Jay Gatsby lives in West Egg. Daisy Buchanan lives in East Egg. And the new musical about them that opened Thursday at the Broadway Theatre lays a big egg.

It’s debatable whether one of American literature’s most mysterious characters should ever sing. What Gatsby should definitely not ever do is lead a chorus of tap dancers. That not-since-“Carrie” spectacle sums up what goes wrong with the new musical “The Great Gatsby,” with book by Kati Kerrigan and score by composer Jason Howland and lyricist Nathan Tysen.

Kerrigan runs into the same problem that confronted the screenwriters of the three movie versions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic novel: what to do with narrator Nick Carroway. The beauty of the novels is less the tragic love story between Gatsby and Daisy than the prose that is Carroway’s view of how old and new money clashed, creating an explosion of hedonism after the Great War. Kerrigan’s solution is to pump up the romance between Carroway (Noah J. Ricketts) and Daisy’s cynical friend Jordan Baker (Samantha Pauly). In the novel, they date. On stage, they attend an orgy together and get engaged.

Howland and Tysen’s score is a romantic throwback to the 1970s-80s heyday of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who borrowed heavily from Puccini and other verismo composers. Especially effective is the way in which several songs weave dialogue in and out of the recitative and the arias themselves. Howlands’ arrangements too often go for big brassy effects, but in comparison to most new musicals on Broadway, “The Great Gatsby” sonically is a study in understatement.

Visually, it’s another story, and watching this musical, I was taken back to 1997 when Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s “Titanic” opened on Broadway. It was a good if not great musical sabotaged by a literal and bloated production. It will be interesting to see what Encores!, famed for its pared-down production aesthetic, does with “Titanic” when it is revived at New York City Center in June.

This new “Gatsby” musical has a slightly different case of elephantiasis under Marc Bruni’s over-the-top direction. For instance, when Carroway lets Gatsby (Jeremy Jordan) use his cottage for the rendezvous with Daisy (Eva Noblezada), it’s turned into a “Hello, Dolly!” moment with lots of dancing servants at the ready with flowers, food and tea. All that’s missing is the staircase in Paul Tate DePoo III’s sometimes grand, sometimes gauche scenic design.

When Gatsby’s business partner Meyer Wolfsheim (Eric Anderson) sings about their crimes, the chorus swoops around him waving their long coats and otherwise being ridiculously sinister. Bruni should be thinking Kurt Weill, not Cirque du Soleil.

Much worse is what you’d expect to be the most dazzling aspect of a musical based on “The Great Gatsby.” The blowout parties at Gatsby’s West Egg estate see the chorus dipped in glitter, rhinestones and satin – and those are the costumes, by Linda Cho, for the men. These partygoers are supposed to be the nouveau riche, not the “Gildettes” as they are credited in the Playbill.

Noblezada’s Daisy enchants, floating above the production’s excesses; then again, she is never asked to participate in any of the big numbers choreographed by Dominique Kelley.

Ricketts wisely resists turning Carroway into too much of a prig – until the very end when he replicates Ato Blankson-Wood’s scene chewing over at “Cabaret.” Both actors are their respective show’s moral compass, and both actors can’t resist veering off course to deliver their big moment of chastisement on stage.

Jordan presents a truly bizarre Gatsby. Granted, his tap dancing is an odd spectacle. There’s also the mid-Atlantic accent that Jordan uses to suggest the character’s patrician aspirations. As the show progresses, he moves farther and farther east. Near the end, Gatsby’s mansion on Long island has been transformed into Bela Lugosi’s castle in Transylvania. And with his strange way of speaking, why does this Gatsby have a country twang when he sings?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.