F Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel about 1920s America continues its 2012 onslaught on the British stage with this musical adaptation. Don’t panic about people singing about hit-and-runs though; it’s handled more subtly than that. But perhaps inevitably, some of the book’s desolate beauty and power is missing.
Linnie Reedman has crafted Fitzgerald’s story of enigmatic socialite Jay Gatsby – shrouded in gossipy myth by the time we meet him – into one of lost love and regret. The book is reordered to foreground Daisy’s earlier sacrifice of happiness with a poor Jay for the security and wealth of marriage to the monstrous Tom Buchanan.
Composer Joe Evans’s music and lyrics evoke the decadent rush of the jazz era and its seedy underbelly, blending well with Alyssa Noble’s choreography. Sultry refrains pulse in the background as secrets are revealed that prove disastrous for those caught in Gatsby’s wake.
But having the characters constantly sing their innermost feelings goes against the grain of what makes the book so haunting. Fitzgerald’s prose aches with things unsaid, his characters caught by unending denial in the brittle amber of their cocktail-laden lives – a desert of glittering surfaces, emotionally and spiritually arid.
Noble is noticeably the best dancer and a few actors struggle accent-wise. But strong performances abound, including Matilda Sturridge as a cynical, quietly despairing Daisy and Steven Clarke as the bullying, insecure husband with a woman in every town. It takes a while to get used to Sean Browne’s laconic Gatsby, but he’s a charismatic presence.
Apart from the confused car accident sequence – which was always going to be difficult to stage in a small space this is a well-executed, at times affecting and stylish production. But in trying to channel the novel through the conventions of musical theatre, something is lost.
First published by Time Out