Glamour, Glitz and Grueling Humanity in ‘The Great Gatsby’

Like the plentiful drinks that the men and women of the Roaring Twenties consume throughout the show, O’Fallon Theatre Works splashes “The Great Gatsby” into our laps right away with grand Jazz Age details.

Widely considered one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century, “The Great Gatsby,” written by F. Scott Fitzgerald during the decade of decadence, follows narrator Nick Carraway through a seething summer on Long Island in 1922, when sin is in.

It was a real privilege to see this modern literature classic performed on stage. Simon Levy adapted it for the stage, and for those who hold this novel dear to their hearts, fear not. Levy has kept it largely close to the original.

Nick roams with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her boorish husband, Tom. They introduce him to their beautiful golfer friend, Jordan Baker. Nick learns that he lives next door to the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, who throws the parties that everyone wants to attend. But who is he? Where did he come from? And, most important to this story, why is he there?

Director Katy Leigh Gilda Fry may have tweaked a few things, but this production stays true to the classic. At times, it resembles the 2013 Baz Luhrmann film, but any stage production done now is likely to be compared to the movie.

Fry has emphasized the period music as a major part of the show, almost a character itself, which enhances the production.

The opening scene is a slightly too drawn-out musical number – a raucous display of the popular period dance, the Charleston. Julie Garey’s choreography, along with Carole Lanham’s stunning costumes, perfectly sets the period mood.

More Charlestons appear at Gatsby’s lavish parties, and while they are visually pleasing, they are a tad too drawn out.

Then again, the original music composed by Jeremy Melton provides the only relief from the story’s intensity. O’Fallon Theatre Works does not sugar-coat any of it, which is to be commended, because this is not a story for the faint of heart.

This might explain why the opening night audience seemed to have low energy. Perhaps some audience members were not familiar with the story, and were not prepared for themes of sexual deviance, alcoholism, hedonism and violence. Or, maybe they were just enthralled with the show, which is a nod to the cast and set.

Ellie Lanham’s set design is a glittering feast for the eyes, and does not stray far from the picture Fitzgerald paints. The set and costumes do not disappoint.

Gatsby might be the title character, but it is Nick’s story. Colin Dowd makes many asides to us, letting us know that not everything is what it seems in this story. In this role, Dowd is reliable, but Carraway may somewhat unreliable, as he partakes in the drinking and sexual exploits too. Dowd’s Nick is charming and gullible, just as we imagine him, and he capably carries the story. He’s the only character who transforms, and it’s heart-wrenching.

Rebecca Loughridge and Andrew Woodard portray Daisy and Tom Buchanan, who are charming and revolting at the same time. Tori Stukins brings wonderful sass to Jordan Baker, and seems made for the role.

Kellen Green is strong as the mysterious Gatsby, providing excellent detail. He shows physical tics subtly. His Gatsby is a boy in the clothes of a well put-together man. As the ‘beautiful little fool’ of this story, he gains our sympathy.

Gatsby’s story is a fascinating, heartbreaking one that will have the audience leaning in closer to see if he is all that he seems. Could one man really be so magnificent? If so, why?

Dripping with glamour and glitz, O’Fallon Theatre Works’ production of “The Great Gatsby” is an entertaining rendition of a gut-wrenching tale that shows an ugly side of humanity. Throw in a little party music, and it’s a worthy experience for audience members.

“The Great Gatsby” runs through March 25, and performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday in the O’Fallon Municipal Centre (City Hall), 100 North Main Street, O’Fallon, Mo. Tickets are available in advance at the Renaud Spirit Center, 2650 Tri Sports Circle, O’Fallon, MO 63368.


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