Pros: A bubbly and vivacious cast bring Fitzgerald’s characters to life.
Cons: The band was small and thin-sounding, and some of the vocals were a tad shaky.
The Great Gatsby is unquestionably one of the most iconic works of literature of the twentieth century. It has inspired multiple film adaptations – the most recent of which has finally been released in cinemas after almost a year of delay – plays, a ballet and now a musical. Fitzgerald’s tale is one of excessive wealth, romance, betrayal and, above all, dreaming. Each of the novel’s artistic adaptations addresses these themes diligently; it is their lethal combination combined with the lyrical prose of narrator Nick Carraway which mark Gatsby as the epitome of the American Dream novel. With so much going on, however, it is tricky to find a method of balancing each of these crucial themes within a two hour timeframe. While most of these adaptations choose a clear focus, Joe Evans and Linnie Reedman’s musical adaptation makes the mistake of attempting to squeeze every little importance into the production; with so many crucial elements to address, it is inevitable that a few will be lost in throw-away lines.
Where the focus does remain sturdy, however, is in the youth and enthusiasm of the characters. The production’s cast threw wave upon wave of energy and vivacity at the audience. The dance numbers were fast-paced and animated, full of unabashed cries of enjoyment and laughter. A more accomplished, synchronised band was all that these moments needed in order to give them that extra little bit of sparkle. The band, interestingly, consisted almost entirely of cast members holding crucial roles within the show itself, meaning that only a small selection could play at one time while the others were on stage. This perhaps explains that while the musicians were, for the most part, evidently capable instrumentalists (musical director Greg Arrowsmith, in particular, gave a wonderfully lyrical performance of an intricate piano score) the ensemble itself sounded thin on the ground.
The music itself left much to be desired. Composer and lyricist Joe Evans often uses solo songs to grant the audience insight into the characters’ heads and beautifully employs elements of the novel’s original wording to aid their lyricism. I found, however, that the songs do little more than aid the plot of the novel. The beauty of the musical lies in the combination of carefully selected words and the expressive potential of music and, while there were one or two exceptions (the love song ‘I’ll Sing a Deathless Song’ is beautiful both the first time round and in its finale reprise), the songs in this production do little more than tell a story on surface level.
The cast themselves were a credit to Ruby in the Dust. Imogen Daines paints a refreshingly witty portrait of golfing star Jordan Baker, and Sid Phoenix plays the subtlety and slickness of Nick Carraway to perfection. The stand-out performance is, without question, Matilda Sturridge as Daisy Buchanan. Her voice contains all the seduction, mystery and sadness that Fitzgerald penned into his dainty heroine, and she maintains a hauntingly vacant expression throughout, conveying the character’s beautifully bleak outlook on the life which has been set out for her. Her vocals, too, were the strongest of the cast, with a uniquely inviting tone to her voice which complemented her acting wonderfully.
Seeing The Great Gatsby performed as a musical was certainly a unique experience. The cast showed very few weaknesses: where this production’s troubles lie are with the work itself. While the melodies are pretty and the script is jaunty and witty, as a whole it fails to capture the true splendour of Fitzgerald’s original tale. A more ambitious orchestration and larger venue could, perhaps, restore some of the original glamour, but any production which chooses to completely alter the infamous closing lines of the novel needs to have a serious think about the magnitude of The Great Gatsby and how they wish to represent it.
Original Novel: F Scott Fitzgerald
Adapted by: Joe Evans and Linnie Reedman
Director: Linnie Reedman
Box Office: 020 8237 1111
Booking Link: http://www.riversidestudios.co.uk/cgi-bin/page.pl?l=1362545729
Booking Until: 8th June 2013