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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    ‘Gatsby’ musical has Jazz Age excess but no yearning

    New York — “The Great Gatsby: A New Musical” still is what many people think of when they ponder a big Broadway night out: A familiar yet glamorous title from the Jazz Age; a star tenor like Jeremy Jordan; lush, string-heavy orchestrations; songs of passion, obsession and resolve, and a massive art deco set from Paul Tate dePoo III cascading off the stage of the Broadway Theatre, which has decor to match.

    Those old-fashioned components might be enough for this title (now helpfully in the public domain) to find a warm-weather audience. There’s an unceasing public appetite for the characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel, a racy story of decadence, infidelity and lies. Every time I’ve seen some version of it, and there have been many, I’ve seen at least some audience members dressed to the nines in suits and evening gowns. People raise their game when they’re taking a date to “The Great Gatsby,” even when they are far from Broadway.

    That said, this new musical, as penned by Kait Kerrigan with music composed by Jason Howland and lyrics by Nathan Tysen, makes you feel very little, except for when Howland’s lush melodies reach their climaxes and, even then, the feelings that flow are more admiration for Howland’s compositional art and craft than the kind of emotion that transfers into an embrace of story.

    And even though it’s a massive show, director Marc Bruni’s production, which also stars Eva Noblezada as Daisy and Noah J. Ricketts as Nick Carraway, doesn’t really convey the sense of flapper age decadence that created an adjective, “Gatsby-esque,” which instantly conveys its meaning. This isn’t a sensual show; no one pulses with sexual desire, notwithstanding the huge bed that rolls on stage at one point. (As does an automobile.)

    Why the strange remove? A decision was made here to convert everything into dialogue and eschew the famous narrative voice of Nick Carraway, which has the effect of making you wonder what he is now doing in the show, given his peripheral relationship to the central story of Jay Gatsby (Jordan) and his pursuit of Daisy Buchanan (Noblezada) and the impact of that quest on Tom Buchanan (John Zdrojeski), Myrtle Wilson (Sara Chase), Jordan Baker (Samantha Pauly) and George Wilson (Paul Whitty). Ricketts plays Nick as a bland, observational dude, not so different from Cliff in “Cabaret,” which makes some sense — but not so much when he is shorn of his ability to share his thoughts about what he sees and experiences. Without that, stuff still happens but little in this show helps an audience put it in any kind of fresh context.

    There’s a lot of plot to get through, of course, and “Gatsby” covers the familiar ground reasonably well. Howland is one of the most gifted young American composers, one still waiting for the right material to fully break out, and he has written some lovely ballads for Jordan, whose voice soars to the back of the giant theater, and for Noblezada, who is appealing but still needs more definition to fill out the role of Daisy. Another problem with the book and the staging, though, is that it tends to treat everything on the same temporal level. For example, time does not slow down before the climactic accident and, while it sure comes as a surprise, it also verges on the unintentionally comic.

    Dominique Kelley has created some serviceable 1920s dancing although the show in my view is under-choreographed: these are talented performers and they could do so much that what mostly is social dance, not so different from someone’s Gatsby-themed shebang. The passion of Jay and Daisy somehow never moves: Jordan mostly plants himself and sings his face off, which is great as far as that goes, but the show’s lack of fluidity is a big problem.

    Audiences don’t need their hand held by Nick or anyone else through “Gatsby” but given the familiarity of this territory, we do crave a fresh and distinctive point of view. Beyond exploiting this famously beguiling title, it’s never clear what this telling really wants to say.

    “The Great Gatsby: A New Musical,” at the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, New York; broadwaygatsby.com.

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