Available until: Livestreams on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th February at 7.30pm. You can pause the stream if you want to.
The Great Gatsby is a really sad but romantic book and this musical is a beautiful retelling of that story. As I’m sure most people know, it’s set in the 1920s with flappers, parties and lots of intrigue. I don’t usually enjoy stories about love triangles as they tend to focus more on the drama, but The Great Gatsby (which is more of a love pentagon anyway) is far more focused on the emotional side and the genuine feelings of the characters, as well as exploring some of the difficulties that women in particular faced when they were getting married.
The novel is narrated by a character called Nick Carraway who is more an observer of events than someone who is directly involved, but the main character here is Daisy Buchanan. So much of what happens is because of a decision Daisy made or a decision someone else made because of Daisy so I think this makes sense. It is a really interesting technique for a book to have a narrator who isn’t right at the centre of the action, but when you’re watching a musical, it’s unusual to have a narrator, unless they are a bit more than just a narrator, like the Narrator in Blood Brothers.
The music and lyrics were written by Joe Evans and it is a really wonderful soundtrack. As you’d expect, there is a lot of 1920s style charleston music, but there are a lot of other styles too. As a Strictly fan, I recognised music that could be used for foxtrots, quicksteps, tangos, waltzes, Viennese waltzes and even a possible cha cha cha. There is almost no dancing – because of the pandemic, it was staged as a concert performance with social distancing so they couldn’t have let people dance together, but Jodie Steele (Daisy) and Emma Williams (Myrtle) do some great charleston steps behind their music stands.
Linnie Reedman wrote the book of the musical and also directed the production. It must have been really difficult to co-ordinate, with characters leaving the stage without getting too close to each other and music stands being discreetly sanitised without affecting the performers who were still onstage, but it all looks really smooth and professional and the storytelling is so beautiful. The book is all about loving people who are (or should be) out of reach in a metaphorical way so it works for them to be out of reach literally too. Although it is a concert performance, the characters are still allowed to look at each other and interact. This works really well and it actually doesn’t feel like a concert performance at all.
Daisy is played by Jodie Steele who most recently played Katherine Howard in the UK tour of Six (as well as appearing in several online concerts during lockdown). Ms Steele is an absolutely brilliant actor. Just from her body language, you can tell Daisy is from a different era. The way she expresses Daisy’s emotions is really powerful and moving. When she isn’t singing or speaking, the camera often cuts away to her and she is always in character and always reacting.
Ms Steele’s singing voice is just incredible. She can sing in so many different styles. Her voice always sounds beautiful and she never loses the emotion or the character. Next time I read The Great Gatsby, I will imagine Daisy as looking just like Ms Steele because she is Daisy for me now. She is so talented and when the theatres are finally open, I’m sure we’ll see her in lots more roles.
Daisy’s onstage husband Tom Buchanan is played by Ms Steele’s real-life partner Liam Doyle, which must have been a very interesting experience. But I’m sure the fact they knew each other so well really helped them with creating a really complicated relationship for the two characters, especially with limited rehearsal time. They have such strong chemistry together, even though it wasn’t presented in a positive way in Gatsby. Mr Doyle is brilliant at showing Tom’s anger and frustration and lack of understanding. It’s enough to gain out sympathy but not so much that we support him instead of Daisy. He has such a lovely rich voice too.
The only slight problem with Daisy and Tom being such a (negatively-charged) power couple is that it puts even more pressure on Gatsby, but Ross William Wild is excellent in the title role. He could have come across as a real bad boy, but he is much more of a tortured hero who really loves Daisy. Mr Wild sings beautifully and does an excellent job of showing how sad Gatsby’s situation is.
Perhaps the biggest name in the cast is Emma Williams, who plays the role of Myrtle, a married woman who Tom has a very close friendship with. She brings a real jazzy quality to some of her singing and she has so much stage presence and charisma, it actually doesn’t matter that she’s often standing behind the others. Although his role is smaller than in the book, Blake Patrick Anderson gives a really strong and emotionally-involved performance as Nick., Robert Grose brings mystery and power to the role of Theodore Woolfe, and Lauren Chinery gives the musical some of its most fun moments as Jordan Baker.
The plan is to have a fully-staged performance some time in the future. That is definitely something to look forward to, but in the meantime, I hope as many people as possible will watch this brilliant concert performance.