The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby Comes Alive in a Sumptuous New Broadway Musical

Of all the leading characters in classic American novels, perhaps the most mysterious are Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Presiding over raucous parties at his Long Island mansion in the summer of 1922, Gatsby cares only about reuniting with Daisy, his well-to-do (and married) first love. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s eternally alluring twosome are now headed to Broadway in a gorgeous new musical adaptation of The Great Gatsby, starring Tony nominees Jeremy Jordan (Newsies, TV’s Smash) and Eva Noblezada (Hadestown, Miss Saigon). Director Marc Bruni (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) and book writer Kait Kerrigan (The Mad Ones) recently chatted with Broadway Direct about their approach to translating this Great American Novel into a grand and opulent musical for 21st century audiences.

The Great Gatsby is a morality play,” says Kerrigan, “and those kinds of stories work well in the theater. Unlike in a movie, you have access into the internal life of all the characters — including the women, who, from my perspective, were not as fully fleshed out in the novel as I wished they would be. Daisy is a fascinating human being, and I got really excited about going deeper into her story.” For Bruni, The Great Gatsby is nothing less than “a nuanced look at the possibility of achieving the American Dream, which is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago.”

Jeremy Jordan in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Great Gatsby. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MuphyMade.
Jeremy Jordan in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Great Gatsby. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MuphyMade.

A brief refresher for those who haven’t read the book in a while: Gatsby, a handsome tycoon with a murky past, purchases a mansion across the bay from golden couple Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Daisy’s distant cousin, Nick Carraway, newly arrived in New York from the Midwest after World War I, narrates the events of the novel from his shabby rental cottage in the shadow of Gatsby’s house. Also on the scene are Daisy’s golfer friend Jordan Baker; Tom’s working-class mistress, Myrtle Wilson; and Myrtle’s husband, George, a struggling garage owner whose jealousy sets off a series of tragic events.

Over the past century, The Great Gatsby has been adapted into multiple movies, an opera, and various stage incarnations, including Gatz, a word-for-word reading of the text with a running time of eight hours. Who, after all, could resist a riveting tale of beautiful people behaving recklessly at the height of the Jazz Age? As she reread the novel, Kerrigan found herself focusing on the age-old question of how, as she puts it, “class and money are connected with marriage.” Would Daisy, a debutante raised to marry a wealthy man, dare to risk her security for an uncertain future with a nouveau riche suitor she hardly knows?

Before that question is answered, audiences are treated to a spectacular depiction of gilded misbehavior. “We’re very much doing a maximalist Gatsby rather than a stripped-down version,” Bruni says with laugh. “It’s maximalist in its emotional life, in its physical life, and in its ability to excite audiences.” At the show’s sold-out pre-Broadway run last fall at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse, theatergoers showed up in period costumes and returned multiple times to savor the saga of Daisy and Gatsby.

But this Great Gatsby is no nostalgia piece: Every element struck a contemporary chord with Kerrigan and Bruni, and they embraced the notion of combining “a current point of view on the story while leaving it very much in the period,” the director says. As Kerrigan observes, “We’re in a moment of technology moving so fast, we can hardly figure out what things will look like 10 years from now, and that’s what it felt like in the 1920s. It was a time of great change, when people were in a whirlwind, and audiences identify with that.”

The score, by composer Jason Howland and Kerrigan’s husband, lyricist Nathan Tysen (2022 Tony nominees for Paradise Square), “is lush and beautiful and everything you would want from the 1920s, and yet it doesn’t feel like pastiche,” Kerrigan says. Agrees Bruni, “Jason and Nathan have been able to reflect the scale and the epic scope of the story in their score, which will be played by a 19-piece orchestra, one of the largest on Broadway. Their soaring melodies and buzzy production numbers feel like they’re in active conversation with the present.”

The Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Great Gatsby. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
The Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Great Gatsby. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

No Roaring Twenties–era musical would be complete, of course, without the kind of unrestrained dancing that Gatsby’s party guests must have indulged in on gin-soaked Saturday nights. Contemporary choreographer Dominique Kelley understood the assignment: “Dominque’s work takes inspiration from period dance styles and mashes them up with today,” says Bruni. “He re-creates, if not what a 1920s party would look like — which might play like a museum piece — the feel of being surrounded by what’s hot and new.”

A diverse cast led by Noblezada (whose parents are of Filipino and Mexican descent) adds another layer of duality to the musical. “It’s important that the story we’re telling feel relevant to the moment we’re living through, and casting is connected with that,” Kerrigan explains. Luckily, Noblezada and Jordan as Daisy and Gatsby share the kind of trust and chemistry all musicals need to succeed. “They’re unbelievably charismatic, and they both have such a draw — you just want to lean in and be near them,” Kerrigan notes. Bruni says of his young leads, “In addition to their incredible vocal gifts, they’re wonderfully grounded actors. This show has gorgeous, big singing in it, but it’s also a huge acting challenge. Jeremy and Eva create characters who feel fully lived-in, which is a gift for any director.”

Looking toward her Broadway debut, Kerrigan says, “I want our show to be transformative! I love seeing musicals on Broadway, and I want ours to deliver on scale and fabulousness and beauty, but I also want it to move people. You experience theater live, and that electric feeling in the audience is thrilling.” Adds Bruni, “We know that Broadway shows are a special treat, and our show is very much that — it’s a deluxe event, a version of the 1920s that is absolutely transporting.”

The Great Gatsby will begin performances at the Broadway Theatre on Friday, March 29, 2024, ahead of opening on Thursday, April 25, 2024. Tickets are now on sale on Broadway Direct.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

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