Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Great Gatsby Musical

Music by Joe Evans, lyrics by Joe Evans and F Scott Fitzgerald
Ruby in the Dust
Kings Head Theatre

Sean Browne as Jay Gatsby and Matilda Sturridge as Daisy Credit: Patrick Dodds

A producer’s note in the programme claims that there has never been a musical version of Scott Fitzgerald’s much adapted novel which has been turned into films, plays, an opera and Elevator Repair Service’s eight-hour presentation Gatz. Perhaps they are right to discount the production this spring at Wilton’s which used existing songs—though heaven knows we have had plenty of shows that do that with the Spice Girls next up.

This time the tunes are new ones, the words sometimes Fitzgerald originals and the rest by Joe Evans. The programme gives no credit for the show's book but the theatre web site says written by the director Linnie Reedman. Whoever is responsible for the adaptation, they have done a good job extracting a clear storyline and packing it into two hours including an interval.

Simply staged against a charcoal grey backing behind gold latticework, latticed chairs on wheels being trundled around to change the setting, it is beautifully dressed in jazz age outfits, summer suits and a set of beachwear that add plenty of colour and capture the period.

The music is delightful—it captures the spirit of the jazz age without being pastiche—and there are some plaintively touching numbers too. Even Jon Gabriel Robbins's cuckolded garage man George gets a dramatic solo accompanying himself on a cello. Naomi Bullock, as his wife Myrtle and Tom Buchanan’s mistress, not only puts over a number with power but is a classy clarinettist.

Patrick Lannigan’s darkly dangerous bootlegger plays double bass, Anne Maguire plays violin as well as Myrtle’s good-time seeking sister. This is a show in which actors quite often pick up an instrument, though composer Joe Evans stays at the keyboard. They are all twinkle-toed too with some energetic dances choreographed by Alyssa Noble (who’s a sparkling Lucille) with some clever bent-knee kicks that stop them from knocking the front row’s teeth out.

Raphael Vernon plays Fitzgerald’s storyteller Nick Carroway, though this version avoids the device of narrator. He’s clean cut and likeable, while Steven Clarke, whose moustachioed good looks made me think of a young Olivier, mix charm with unpleasantness as selfish, racist snob Tom Buchanan.

The show opens with his wife Daisy agreeing to go ahead with their marriage and Matilda Sturridge cleverly doesn’t play her all-out for sympathy. There is still plenty of the spoiled rich girl in this characterisation and, though her singing lacks projection at first, she won me over with numbers that express the pain and longing she is feeling.

There is another elegant performance from Peta Cornish as her best friend Jordan, which leaves Jay Gatsby himself, given an enigmatic build up before we first see him. What does Sean Browne make of him? His Gatsby is firm-chinned good-looking, urbane and restrained but with something behind the eyes that makes him enigmatic, makes you think twice about his claims and the rumours that circulate about him. I think he pulls it off.

This is a show that is tuneful and entertaining that momentarily made me care about this shallow bunch of socialites. It is carefully tailored to match the venue and its success comes in part from its intimacy. Could it preserve its attractions if rethought on a larger scale? It certainly deserves longer life than this opening run.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton