Opening Night A Blowout Success
By Bob Nesoff
With it’s first show of the 23-24 season Paper Mill Playhouse has once again shown that there is no need to spend big bucks by going to a Broadway theater. Tickets there are expensive. You need a bank loan to park. And the new money-grab slated for spring and called “Congestion Pricing” is all the more reason to enjoy professional theater in New Jersey.
Millburn’s paper Mill Playhouse has consistently offered top-notch theater with professional actors that more than rival what is happening eastward across the Hudson River.
The latest entry is the theatrical version of the classing novel, “The Great Gatsby.” And what a production it is. While a local daily newspaper opted to virtually ignore the show and instead devoted his review on the history of the book, he left little reason to go and see the show.
But anyone who enjoys theater, and very good theater, would be remiss in not opting to see The Great Gatsby at Paper Mill. The show opened with a rollicking music and dance number that actually had the audience tapping feet in cadence to those on stage. Entitled “Roaring On,” the number featured Gatsby (Jeremy Jordan), Wolfsheim (Stanley W. Mathis), Nick (Noah J. Ricketts) and the entire ensemble.
Nick raises eyebrows when he is presented with a formal paper invitation to a reception at the home of a somewhat reclusive Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is known for his parties but is rarely seen. He is a mysterious figure. But that is about to change.
While one reviewer for some reason attempted to make this come across as an Asian depiction, or more directly, Korean, totally misses the mark. Chunsoo Shin, the lead producer notes that the book and story are popular worldwide. He points out that it is popular in Asian countries, South Africa and many more. But the fact of that is that Gatsby is quintessentially American and what we know of the Roaring20s.
The dancing ensemble could have come straight from a Flapper party and were in better synch than the Rocketts in the Christmas spectacular.
If the talent was amazing, it was matched by the scenery. In an instant the stage was transformed from an elegant estate to a gas station to a yellow Rolls Royce gliding across the stage.
If there was anything superfluous it was the “gangster” appearance who had crates delivered and stored behind the gas station. There was one mention of it by police investigating a “hit and run” and that was it.
The book, for anyone not familiar with the story, had Jay Gatsby in love with the young and beautiful Daisy (Eva Noblezada). Unfortunately, she thought he had been killed in the great war and married Tom Buchanan (John Zdrojeski pr. ‘struh-jeh-ski”).
Perhaps the most underrated character in the play was Nick Carraway, who did an amazing job of pulling things together. His almost romance with Jordan Baker, a championship golfer, gets off to a slow start and then suddenly ends very abruptly. The audience was looking for a long-term connection between the two, but, alas it was not to be. He does provide connection between the characters as he is presented as Daisy’s cousin. The connection here extends to Daisy as Jordan’s best friend. She does come off as a strong woman who would fit well in the 21st Century.
No one is surprised when Gatsby and Daisy renew their romance and end up in bed. Tom is having an affair, but as “old money” that seems to be OK. But he’s not OK with Gatsby and Daisy coupling.
Tragedy strikes when Myrtle Wilson (Sara Chase), a bit tipsy, is hit and killed by the driver of the yellow Rolls. That solved the issue of her pregnancy from her affair with Tom Buchanan.
The accident is at the gas station owned by her lower-class husband, George (Paul Whitty). Tom Buchanan gives police a description of the Rolls and it is hinted that Gatsby was the driver. No mention s made of the fact the Myrtle was tipsy and Daisy, also under the weather, was actually the driver.
With the yellow luxury car tied to Gatsby, George looks for revenge, finds Gatsby standing near the pool on his estate. He shoots and kills the show’s namesake.
Gatsby even dies dramatically as befits the strange life he has led. Was he truly a millionaire? Was his name really Gatsby? What was the truth?
It really didn’t matter. Nick closed out the show. The curtain had barely dropped when the audience literally jumped to its feet with an enthusiastic round of applause even before the cast had time to make an appearance.
While generations of student found The Great Gatsby to be required reading in school, they would have been better off seeing this performance. The show will run until Nov. 12.
The next show will be the classic “Fiddler on the Roof”, opening Dec. 6.
Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Avenue