Pros: An exploration of a classic story which has real potential to succeed in musical form.
Cons: In an effort to offer a new perspective on the original, the show misses much of the charm and meaning of the novel.
Linnie Reedman and Joe Evans’ Gatsby is returning to London in a new home – the Union Theatre. As a musical theatre lover and avid fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great American Novel, The Great Gatsby, I was eagerly anticipating this production. I was further excited by the energy and commitment to the era that was evident before the show even began, with actors mingling in character with customers at the bar. This atmosphere continues in the theatre space, which hosts a number of clothed tables and chairs alongside side-on seating, allowing audience members to fully immerse themselves in the speak-easy setting.
Gatsby represents an interesting approach to the classic story, which follows mysterious the Jay Gatsby in his quest to regain the love of now-married Daisy Buchanan through grandeur and glamour. As director Linnie Reedman writes, ‘this version… looks at events through Wolfshiem’s eyes, instead of the (book’s) narrator, Nick Carraway’. Whilst I can see the appeal in exploring Gatsby’s history in this way, I did not feel the reality of this exploration offered much more than some expositional dialogue towards the end of the show. Although a friend of Gatsby’s, Wolfsheim is very removed from much of the drama, so the tragedy which unfolds between the Buchanans and their lovers remains reliant on the presence of Nick. The often uncomfortable performance from actor Paul DuBois is not a great help either.
Gatsby features some memorable musical moments, such as the beautiful harmonies of Ladder to the Stars, and the stunningly seductive You Can’t Live Forever. The best number of the show is I Bet He Killed A Man, which provides a fantastic example of musical theatre at its best – the number flows naturally from the dialogue, communicates something better through song than through speech alone, and features an interesting musical construction. If every composition had been approached in this way, Joe Evans’ score would have been wonderful. Unfortunately, in reality, many numbers feel unnecessary or unnatural.
The cast works well as an ensemble, though volume and energy sometimes lag in group numbers. Samantha Louise Clark and Lewis Rae, however, must be commended for their unwavering commitment to their comical characters, who often seem to be leading the ensemble. Ferne McCann is a captivating Myrtle, who unveils a strong voice with a beautiful tone. I was disappointed by the treatment of her final scene, however. It was let down by a poorly written song, All Seeing Eyes, and accompanied by repetitious direction. For a character who demands the audience’s affection more than any other – a deviation from the novel – this seems a shame. Blair Robertson (Nick), Joanna Brown (Daisy) and Zed Josef (Tom) all give powerful dramatic performances in the later stages of the show, with each actor performing honesty much better than façade.
The Great Gatsby is such an iconic story, and I do believe there is a market and place for a musical version. If Gatsby allows itself to be directed by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story and carefully considers where music and dance can take the mood of the era further, it could become the show fans would love to see.
Author: Linnie Reedman
Composer: Joe Evans
Production Manager: Catherine Francoise
Choreographer: Nick Pack
Musical Director: Barnaby Southgate
Orchestrator: Tom Dennis
Box Office: 020 7261 9876
Booking Link: http://www.uniontheatre.biz/gatsby/4591717482
Booking Until: 30 April 2016