Book, Music and Lyrics: Linnie Reedman and Joe Evans
Director: Linnie Reedman
After a very promising concert essay broadcast from Cadogan Hall in February, Gatsby: a musical by Linnie Reedman and Joe Evans ends the year with his first full staging at Southwark Playhouse with some of the original cast. One of many shows recovering from a brief race affected by Covid, this female-centric perspective on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s highly adapted tale is one of the success stories of 2021.
In 1929, Daisy Buchanan returned to Long Island in search of lost love Jay Gatsby, only to find his once bustling home doomed and no indication of what happened to it. Following the trail to Luna Park, Daisy meets the owner of the underground bar Theodore Woolfe and tells the story of her time with the Gatsby and the fateful summer of 1922 when he returned to his life.
Reedman and Evans’ 2.5-hour production is one of the best musical shots yet Gatsby in what is already a crowded market. Yet this version stands out for its meaningful exploration of love and memory, giving the story three layers – Daisy’s pursuit of truth in 1929, the familiar reconstructed scenes from seven years ago that the creators flesh out, and the lingering effect of the legendary lovers’ first summer in 1917 – which adds richness to the textured characterization and individual motivation.
What was originally a book written by a man about a glamorous male figure narrated by an admiring male friend, refocuses on the two main female characters whose fates the men in the story control. What happened to Daisy in the years following the novel is credibly imagined as Reedman and Evans give her an indecisive level of complexity that shapes the story as she is torn between the life she has and the one she dreams of. And there’s a notable moment in the second act where Gatsby and Tom go head-to-head, both speaking on Daisy’s behalf and deciding what will happen to her without once asking her for her opinion.
The writers also give Myrtle Wilson (a formidable Julie Yammanee) much more space and here she too becomes a commodity to be traded, a mirror of Daisy’s unhappy marriage to a man she soon ceased to love. That Myrtle transforms from an empty-headed adulterous woman into a broken woman seeking to distract herself from her little life at the Gatsby parties and into Tom’s arms restores considerable dignity to the character giving Gatsby: a musical its multiple layers and perspectives.
Jodie Steele is reprising her role as Daisy and it seems to have been written entirely for her. She shines in the central role, capturing all the worry and angst of her character in 1929, gripped by the events of previous years. She is livelier in 1922, a beloved party girl, but Steele traces the slow end of happiness as her love for Gatsby colors everything.
Ross William Wild also returns as Gatsby, a more emotional and passionate figure than even Fitzgerald wrote, constantly trembling for the woman he loves. Bradley Clarkson adds depth to Tom, showing off the carefree playboy but also his possessive control over his wife, while the larger cast complements the lead roles with impressive song and dance performances.
Directing the play for the first time, Reedman as director trusts the very music that made his concert version so successful, opting for just enough props to mark the changing locations and locations. time lags. Chris Whittaker delivers jazz and Charleston-inspired choreography that works effectively in the small space of Southwark Playhouse, and with just 11 actors, most of whom are directors, Reedman balances storytelling and transitional moments between song and book. the play never loses rhythm or drama.
He might cut a few superfluous songs – especially Nick’s last solo – that don’t do much other than extend runtime, but what? Gatsby: a musical really needs space. With the actors wearing microphones to compete with the impressive on-stage group led by Victoria Calver on piano, Little’s speakers sometimes make the unaccompanied dialogue sound like tannoy announcements while the lyrics make more complex melodies involving multiple voices get lost in the music. But that’s nothing that a bigger venue wouldn’t solve and that seems to be the direction this show is headed. So keep an eye out for this one, its run may end in early January, but Gatsby: a musical should have a much longer lifespan.
Until January 8, 2022