Home Blog 'Great Gatsby,' at Paper Mill Playhouse NJ, will always be great – NorthJersey.com

'Great Gatsby,' at Paper Mill Playhouse NJ, will always be great – NorthJersey.com

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“The Great Gatsby” is about love, loss, yearning, materialism, success, class, and the urge to reinvent yourself.
Everything, in other words, that is most quintessentially Korean.
“It was really one of the most enchanting and influential novels that I read in my younger years,” said Chunsoo Shin, lead producer and driving force behind “The Great Gatsby,” a new musical that opens at Millburn’s Paper Mill Playhouse on Oct. 22.
“I was deeply interested in the character of Gatsby, whose dream and then epic collapse is brilliantly depicted,” said Shin, who grew up in Seoul.
It’s no secret that, as we near the 100th birthday of the novel (1925), “Gatsby” fever has not abated.
What you might not know is that this most American of stories is a world phenomenon. In many countries, many cultures, it’s huge.
“Gatsby” is popular all over Asia. In Dubai, there is a Great Gatsby apartment building. Cape Town’s signature sandwich is The Gatsby. “The Great Gatsby: The Immersive Show” was a hit in London before it came, in 2023, to New York.
” ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a masterpiece novel that is beloved globally, not just in America,” Shin said. “The novel allows the reader — regardless of age, time period, or nationality — to find endless new meaning and interpretations.”
For a story so rooted in America — and in such an odd, brief, atypical moment in America, the Roaring Twenties —”Gatsby” sure seems to have struck a universal chord. How come?
“I guess it’s a testament to American culture transcending itself,” said Adam Goodell, dean of the humanities at Bergen Community College, who has taught “Gatsby.”
“The 1920s jazz age created a culture that is still with us,” Goodell said. “Hyper-materialism. The get-rich-quick entrepreneurship. Corruption among the elites. And most importantly, unhappy rich people. That is such a theme. Half the shows on HBO are about that now.”
These days, there are Gatsbys, Gatsbys everywhere. There are “Gatsby” stage plays, “Gatsby” films, “Gatsby” operas, “Gatsby” immersive events. There is spinoff fiction that re-imagines “Gatsby” from a woman’s perspective, a queer perspective, Daisy’s daughter’s perspective. There is “Gatsby” jewelry, “Gatsby”-inspired fashion, “Gatsby” cocktails. There are endless studies of the novel and its beautiful and damned author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. A 2002 movie, “G,” transported “Gatsby” to the world of hip-hop.
And now, there is a “Gatsby” musical (not the first).
“It’s really a gorgeous production, if I do say so myself,” said director Marc Bruni, whose show features a cast of 23, an onstage orchestra of 15, and songs by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen with titles like “Roaring On,” “My Green Light,” “For Her,” and “Beautiful Little Fool.”
“Hopefully we deliver both the spectacle and the very human exploration of what it means to strive and be an American,” Bruni said.
But not just an American.
Our boom days may be past, but many parts of the world are now experiencing their own versions of The Roaring Twenties. Dubai’s skyscraper explosion, the new Asian wealth that was satirized in the 2018 film “Crazy Rich Asians,” are things that Fitzgerald would have understood.
“I think maybe in places like Dubai and Seoul and Beijing, you have people who aren’t native to these places who have moved there as professionals and achieved great wealth, but they still have insecurities about it, and they’re still trying to navigate it,” Goodell said. “There’s a version of Gatsby in every culture.”
“Gatsby” is not just the world’s most familiar novel. It may be the most misunderstood.
For many, the takeaway of this story about Jay Gatsby (played by North Jersey’s Jeremy Jordan in the musical), the self-made millionaire who hosts incredible parties on his Long Island estate in order to lure back the woman he loved and lost, is that The Roaring Twenties were a swell time — and that Gatsby was the personification of all that made them roar.
In fact, Fitzgerald’s take on the pleasure-seekers and fad-followers of the 1920s is snide, satirical.
These are shallow people, he wants us to know. And to the extent that he — and his narrator, Nick — approve of Gatsby (qualified), it’s for all the ways that he’s not like the 1920s. Not jaded, not cynical, but — in his own preposterous way — innocent.
“There’s this incredible vulnerability and longing and purity there,” said Martha Witt, who teaches literature and creative writing at William Paterson University in Wayne.
“That’s what people miss,” she said. “They think it’s a celebration of this world. And it really isn’t.”
It was Fitzgerald’s own experiences in North Jersey, of all places, that laid the groundwork for “Gatsby.” In 1911, an eager middle-class teenager from St. Paul, Minnesota, he was enrolled at The Newman School, a posh Catholic prep school (long defunct) in Hackensack.
It was a different town then — upscale, quintessentially “Eastern.” Fitzgerald was a fish out of water. He apparently annoyed his classmates by his “Gatsby”-like efforts to fit in. The experience scarred him; his one good takeaway was his friendship with a Monsignor Sigourney Fay, who encouraged his writing. Daisy’s maiden name in “Gatsby” is Fay.
“In ‘Gatsby’ there is this yearning that is so familiar,” Witt says. “What he wants, he’s never going to get. Because it’s not really about wealth, it’s about social class. You can’t be a self-made man, that’s just an illusion. So many countries fashion themselves after the United States, in terms of thinking that. And there’s disappointment at the end of it. Because you just can’t break through that wall.”
So “Gatsby” is a social critique, yes. But “Gatsby” is a lot of things. That’s one reason it remains popular. It contains multitudes.
“It’s such a small book, but it covers so many different genres,” Witt said. “It can be read as a simple love story, as a crime novel, as a mystery, as a celebrity gossip magazine article.”
One aspect of “Gatsby” that the creators of the musical were looking to explore is the plight of women. The 1920s is, among many things, the age of the “flapper.” It was the time of female emancipation, the first decade of suffrage. But in the novel, of course, we see all this through Nick’s — and Fitzgerald’s — male gaze.
“He can’t get into the heads of the female characters,” Bruni said. “That’s something the [musical] book’s writer was especially interested in doing. A more full explanation of the female characters. Which by extension becomes more accessible and relevant in 2023.”
“The Great Gatsby.” A new musical by Kait Kerrigan (book), Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen (music and lyrics), directed by Marc Bruni. With Jeremy Jordan, Eva Noblezada, Sara Chase, Stanley W. Mathis, Samantha Pauly, Noah J. Ricketts, Paul Whitty and John Zdrojeski. At Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn through Nov. 12. $50 to $200. 973 376-4343 or papermill.org.

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