The Great Gatsby: The Great Gatsby at the Princeton Summer Theater. Directed by PST 2022 Artistic Director Ethan Boll, the musical runs from June 24 to July 3 at the Murray Theatre in Hamilton. Above: Narrator Nick Callaway (Jay White, center) meets Jordan Baker (Meghan Penn, left) at the home of his cousin Daisy (Alison Spann, right). (Photo by Raquel Ramirez)
Donald H. Sanborn III
One F. Scott Fitzgerald came to Princeton more than a century ago, where he attended from 1913 to 1917. As a student, the aspiring writer ignited stories and poetry for the Triangle Club, the Princeton Tigers and Nassau.
During his sophomore year, Fitzgerald returned to his home in St. Paul, Minnesota, over the Christmas break. There, he met and fell in love with Ginevra King.The Chicago socialite became the basis for several characters in Fitzgerald’s novels — especially Daisy Buchanan the great gatsby.
While the 1925 novel is told from the perspective of Daisy’s cousin Nick Callaway, Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship mirrors Fitzgerald’s courtship of King. In a line envisioned in the novel, King’s father dismissively tells Fitzgerald, “Poor boys shouldn’t want to marry rich girls.” (Eventually King married a wealthy Chicago businessman, Fitzgerald Larder is married to Zelda Searle.)
exist the great gatsby The now wealthy protagonist buys a house across from Daisy’s with the express purpose of convincing her to restore their relationship. This sparks the jealousy of Daisy’s domineering and flirtatious husband Tom, who goes out of his way to eliminate his rival.
Almost a century after publication the great gatsby, the stage version of the classic novel has been staged at Fitzgerald’s alma mater. After a (pandemic-mandated) three-year hiatus, the student-run Princeton Summer Theater (PST) is kicking off its 2022 season with Simon Levy’s adaptation, which had its world premiere at the Guthrie Theater in 2006.
Levy successfully adapted the novel to stage, succinctly highlighting the backstory and dynamics between the characters. He stayed true to the plot, but not the novel; he transformed some of Fitzgerald’s prose into dialogue with narrator Nick Callaway, highlighting character development.
The production of PST used Levy’s suggestion (printed in the script) to include live music; a band on stage performed before and during the show. Saxophonist and clarinetist Henry Raker, drummer Paolo Montoya and bassist Cliff Wilson – led by Music Director Ned Furlong – established the courage and glamour of the Jazz Age.
The show opens with most of the characters indulging in boisterous dancing. A parody (but not a reproduction) of the iconic cover art of Francis Cugat’s original novel, with a pair of bespectacled eyes dotted on a blue background. Those eyes seem to be keeping a keen eye on the whole process – and the audience.
Nick (Jay White) also observes the scene and then delivers his opening monologue, in which he considers a word from his father. “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone… remember that no one in this world has the advantage you have.” As events unfolded, this advice was tested.
White captures Nick’s tender but bitter reserve, and the character’s gradual but steady disillusionment with the glitz and loose morals of those around him. Most of his lines are calm and expressionless. One notable exception was when he told Tom and Daisy that they were “careless people” after their actions resulted in multiple deaths. In the novel, this line is used as a narrative commentary, but Levy deftly turns it into dialogue. White lets Nick break out with his lines, making it clear that the character is finally seeing what he can’t accept. We see him evolve from an observer to a side commentator — and a principled point of view.
Making Lucky Grad Alison Spann with honors In 2020, return to play Daisy. As a student, Spann lent her acting and musical talents to several productions at Intime Theatre and PST. Spann provides a layered performance that conveys the extent to which Daisy hides deep pain with a lively and cheerful exterior.
Spann had the opportunity to showcase her considerable singing talent. As a prelude to one of the many tense moments between Tom and Daisy, the latter sings “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.” The choice is anachronistic. In 1935, Burt Kalmar and Harry Ruby wrote the original Moonlight on the Meadow, 13 years after the story was set in 1922. Oscar Hammerstein II rewrote the lyrics to “The Kiss That Builds Dreams” in 1951. However, it’s great to hear Spann play this song; it suits her smooth voice, as well as her subtle but ebullient expression.
PST veteran Robby Keown, who has starred in multiple independent films, also does a great job playing Tom.Keown understands the character’s actions — including his bigoted racism; despite his affair with Myrtle Wilson (Violet Gauttero), he’s determined to take it from Gatsby by any means. Daisy – this shows a primary need controlKeown is funny in his portrayal of Tom’s dismissive elitism, and he makes the characters’ abuse of Myrtle and Daisy stunned, though we’re not surprised.
In his PST debut, Xavier Jefferson (a junior at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts) brings a composed and regal stage presence to the character of Jay Gatsby. He sticks to his lines sincerely and calmly, successfully turning the character into the opposite of the raucous Tom. However, a high attitude of authoritative charisma boosts performance; Gatsby – whose past is shrouded in mystery – needs to look bigger than life. Jefferson is at his best in the scene where Gatsby confides in Nick about his plans. And conveys Gatsby’s instinct to protect Daisy from Tom.
Both Jefferson and Keown use body language effectively to convey their characters’ instant mutual distrust and allow their hostility to simmer until Tom challenges Gatsby’s past — especially when he claims to have studied at Oxford University. boiling in the scene. Business dealings (his wealth came from bootlegging).
The cast stars Devin Lee as Myrtle’s husband George (who influenced a major plot twist); Megan Penn as Jordan Baker, Nick’s romantic interest and Gatsby-Daisy- Source for Tom’s Triangle; Ally Wonski as Mrs. McKee and Mrs. Michaelis; and Miquon Jackson as Wolfsheim, Chester and a police officer.
Some actors require constant attention to voice projection because the voice of the dialogue is inconsistent. That said, the ensemble scene is fun. Even with just nine actors, director Ethan Ball and assistant director Gabe Roba were able to convey the gleeful atmosphere of a Gatsby party — and the Roaring Twenties.
Becca Jones’ clothing also succeeded in evoking 1920s inspiration, especially dresses. Set designer Jeffrey Van Velsor laid out formidable dark columns for the stage that seemed to reflect Tom’s strict traditionalism, while curtain-supported windows hinted at interiors such as Tom and Daisy’s home. The sound design – designed by Naveen Bhatia and Sophia Chaves-Gamboa – enhances the scene where Gatsby is shot, just before he receives an unanswered call.
the great gatsby Explore topics that are as relevant today as they were a century ago. Juxtaposing Tom’s snob and overtly racist traditionalism with Gatsby’s pomp, the novel explores issues of class, race and gender relations. Despite Tom’s infidelity to Daisy, his speech slamming “mocking family life and family institutions” reminded many politicians of him.
uUltimately, the success of Levy’s adaptation, and its presentation by PST, is marked by the clear communication of these ideas. And using theatrical elements—especially live music—place audiences in the world of the Jazz Age.
For information on upcoming productions at the Princeton Summer Theater, visit princetonsummertheater.org.