The Great Gatsby was performed by Youth Music Theatre UK at the Wilde Theatre, South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Lewis Barfoot’s theatrical adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated American novel The Great Gatsby continues Youth Music Theatre UK’s tradition of presenting new works on literary themes, which in previous seasons has seen shows including Fagin and The Making of Ali & Nino, both also staged at South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell.
Faithfully following the plot of the novel, The Great Gatsby is a show of two halves. Act I makes extensive use of the company. The outstanding scene, in terms of the energy and visual impact of Barfoot’s direction and Steve Kirkham’s choreography, is Gatsby’s extravagant party towards the end of the act, which encompasses a Charleston-style routine by ‘Nina and the Follies’, as well as the ensemble’s ‘Razzle Dazzle’ showstopper.
Max Kinder in the lead role as Nick Carraway provides an engaging narrative throughout to bind together the various strands of the storyline, which features many delightful touches from the ensemble cast, including a letter-perfect cameo by George Green as the butler. There is rather a long wait for the eponymous protagonist, and it seems as though no sooner has Jay Gatsby been properly introduced, around half an hour in, than the show stops for the interval.
Act II, while significantly longer, focuses largely on a small set of principal characters, notably Carraway, Gatsby, Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and Jordan Baker. Highlights include the love duet performed by Morgan Burgess and Charley Hewitt as Gatsby and Daisy, respectively, together with songs by Olivia Taylor and Tabitha Gervis as speakeasy singers. Spectacular ensemble numbers such as the mid-act tap dance routine are all too brief, and the finale is poignant rather than rousing.
The Great Gatsby has the flavour of a play that incorporates music, rather than a fully-fledged work of musical theatre in which the songs represent the primary source of entertainment. In several instances, singing is merely performed in the background, with dialogue continuing to be spoken over the top. But there is only so much that can reasonably be expected given just ten days to mount a fully staged production, even with the abundance of talent in the company’s 40-strong young cast, whose attention to detail is uniformly palpable.
Adam Gerber’s score, described in the programme as ‘taking inspiration from Tin Pan Alley songwriting and merging it with a 1980s Basie Blasts’, incorporates several pastiches of jazz and blues that are wonderfully evocative of the period. As musical director, Gerber leads an animated performance by the nine-piece band, in which Dan Buxton on saxophone and clarinet stands out in particular.
Evidently a labour of love for both Barfoot and Gerber, Youth Music Theatre UK’s production brilliantly captures the vibrancy of post-war America in bringing the roaring twenties splendidly to life on the Wilde Theatre’s stage.