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Another Side of Paradise

By Gary Wien


Few places on earth had as much to do with the success of F. Scott Fitzgerald as Princeton University. It was there that a young writer fell in love with the woman who would serve as inspiration for one of his most famous characters and where the seeds of his first novel were sown. The Underclassman, a new play by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel, running now through November 30 at The Duke on 42nd Street in New York City, takes a look at this pivotal time in Fitzgerald's life.

Set in 1915, the play follows Fitzgerald's days at Princeton (along with Princeton alums Edmund Wilson '16 and John Peale Bishop '17) and his work with the Princeton Triangle Club show. It was during this period that Fitzgerald fell in love with Ginevra King, a debutante who was clearly out of his social class. The romance haunted him throughout his career. King is often credited as the inspiration behind such characters as Isabelle Borge in This Side of Paradise and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. His debut novel, This Side of Paradise, was based on his time at Princeton. It was an instant success and introduced Fitzgerald as one of the leading voices of his generation.

Through music representative of the age, The Underclassman explores Fitzgerald's coming of age as a writer, his romance with King, and his love of musical theatre. Fitzgerald wasn't much of a student at Princeton, but he was heavily involved with the Triangle Club. The group still exists today, creating original musical theatre productions each year. Fitzgerald is credited with writing all of the song lyrics for three consecutive Triangle Club shows (Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi!, 1914-1915; The Evil Eye, 1915-1916; and Safety First, 1916-1917).

The play features Matt Dengler as Fitzgerald, Jessica Grové as Ginevra King, Piper Goodeve as Marie Hersey, Marrick Smith as John Peale Bishop, and Billy Hepfinger as Edmund Wilson.

"It's interesting to see what led up to the F. Scott that we all know," said Matt Dengler. "That's the fun part of the play. We all have a relationship with F. Scott and The Great Gatsby. We all sort of know that era because of him and this play lets you watch the story unfold. It's cool because F. Scott's known for the ‘20s - the Jazz Age - and these were his formative years."

In order to get a better feel for the time frame, Denglar and Grové were part of a field trip to Princeton University where they walked around campus, visited the Triangle Club, and even saw some of Fitzgerald's original manuscripts.

"It was the best research we could have done," said Dengler. "The university architecture is spectacular. We went into an old lecture hall that has not been touched since the early 1900s. There were about 200 seats and we joked that if you sat in every seat the odds were that you would have sat in one that Fitzgerald had sat in… or didn't because he didn't go to class very often. But the campus is gorgeous and it's really untouched since his time there. It looks like Hogwarts!"

Basic research was not necessary for the husband/wife duo of Peter Mills (Princeton class of '95) and Cara Reichel (Princeton '96). The two met and began dating as members of The Triangle Club. They knew the basic history of Fitzgerald and the Club as his legend is hard to ignore at Princeton, but they expanded their knowledge by studying the history of the Triangle Club and letters from King and Fitzgerald in the University archives.

"[The Triangle Club] was my first experience writing songs for musical theatre or writing songs at all for that matter," recalled Mills. "Everything I know about musical theatre I learned from The Triangle Club because that's where I really started."

The two first told Fitzgerald's tale in 2005 under the name The Pursuit of Persephone, a play that was well received and earned Drama Desk nominations for Outstanding Score and Orchestrations. The new production contains the same central story, but has been streamlined. In the original, much of the play was framed by Fitzgerald looking back as an old man; the new version puts the focus on the present directly as the story happens.

"We allow the young F. Scott Fitzgerald character to take on some of the narrating role that the older F. Scott did by way of using his voice as a writer," explained Mills.

In addition, Mills says that a few songs were cut, a few were added, and the overall running time was reduced. A pattern they found, even in the best reviews, were comments that the play was too long. There's always a danger when changing a show that has received good reviews, but the creative team paid close attention to what people responded to favorably in the original production and did their best to preserve those elements while tightening the overall play.

"Peter and Cara have done a great job because F. Scott's style of writing is so poetic," said Dengler. "If you read This Side of Paradise, there are huge poems and passages with flowery imagery. The work sort of lends itself to music and their lyrics are spot on. They drew from his poetry."

They say you never forget your first true love. For F. Scott Fitzgerald, that was certainly the case. King is thought to have inspired nearly as much of Fitzgerald's writing as his wife Zelda. In The Underclassman, you get to know the one that got away — the woman who haunted Fitzgerald throughout his career. The play captures the youthful energy of the young lovers during a period of time in which the world was on the verge of World War I. It's an era in which the members of the Lost Generation were just beginning to come into their own.



The Underclassman is running now through November 30 at 229 W. 42nd Street New York City.



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The Panto Company Presents "Beauty and the Beast" at The Newton Theatre
(NEWTON, NJ) -- When you think of a dying rose and a clock, candlestick andteapot who talk... you are thinking Beauty and the Beast. One of this season's spellbinding family shows from The Panto Company USA stars Dame Dotty Potty, Loopy Louie, Gaston, Belle and of course The Beast!  The company brings their show to The Newton Theatre on Sunday, March 3 at 3:00pm.
La Strada Ensemble Theater Presents "La Bella Familia" by Edwin Sanchez
(OCEAN GROVE, NJ) -- La Strada Ensemble Theater presents La Bella Familia by Edwin Sanchez from January 18-20.  The play deals with a Puerto Rican hit woman and the gentlest man in the world move next door to the neighbors from hell and everyone learns, the hard way, that family comes first.
Art House Productions Presents "The Passion Project" by Reid Farrington
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- Art House Productions presents the unique theatrical experience that is Reid Farrington’s The Passion Project performed by Laura K. Nicoll.  Eight performances will take place from February 21st to March 3rd. The Passion Project is a 30 minute vibration between performance, film, and installation. Carl Th.Dreyer’s 1928 immortal masterpiece, “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is the main narrative along with the history behind the making of the film, a discussion with a Danish archivist, the story of making this project, as well as Joan’s own story –– her trial, torture, and execution. The Passion Project explodes the film into the three dimensions; placing the audience inside the film, sitting next to Joan, subjecting them to the relentless rhythm of 35 mm film projection.
4th Wall Theatre Presents "Intimate Apparel" by Lynn Nottage
(MAPLEWOOD, NJ) -- 4TH WALL THEATRE continues its 22nd season with a one weekend run of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.  The show will be presented as part of the Black History Month celebrations on February 22, 23, and 24 at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts in Maplewood, NJ.  The show is directed by 4th Wall Executive Director Gwen Ricks-Spencer.
East Lynne Theater, the Henry Sawyer Inn, and Twin Gable's Inn present Murder Mystery Weekends
(CAPE MAY, NJ) -- The award-winning East Lynne Theater Company, with The Henry Sawyer Inn and Twin Gables Inn, present Murder Mystery Weekends on February 15-16, March 8-9, March 22-23, March 29-30, and April 5-6. Participants can test their crime-solving skills while staying in one of these lovely Bed & Breakfasts. East Lynne Theater Company's Murder Mystery Weekends were cited among one of the top five in the country by "AM NY."  


It's "Apple Season" at NJ Rep
Every family has stories. Some are funny. Some are sweet. Some are sad. And some are never shared. Those are often the most powerful.
Rise of the Goatman
Theater For The New City presents Beltsville/Rockville, Part 1: Rise of the Goatman, an original play by Englewood resident Matt Okin (Artistic Director of Black Box Studios), from December 27 through January 13. In this pseudo-Southern Gothic dark comedy, a vibrant group of teens from two very different suburban neighborhoods clash over class differences, drugs, and sex - and the existence of the legendary ‘Goatman’ in 1986. Cut to 2013, and the adolescent kids of those very same teens are struggling to make sense of their family histories - and the same “mythological” creature - that could be holding them back in life.
PHOTOS from "The Winter's Tale" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run now through December 30. 
REVIEW: "It's A Wonderful Life" At Mile Square Theatre
Nestled in a corner of Hoboken, on the second floor, lies the studios of radio station WMST.  It’s a wonderful art deco studio, replete with fine wooden walls, embedded with colorful lights an applause sign.  On stage, we’ve got a few chairs, several microphones and a whole corner wedged with all the necessary props – piano, men’s shoes, sheet metal – to create the audio effects for the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Betsy Aidem Puts A Woman's Touch On George Street Playhouse's "A Doll's House, Part 2"
Betsy Aidem is a veteran actress you might have seen on Broadway. Or maybe on an episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” Or maybe on the big screen last year in “The Greatest Showman.” But over the next few weeks in New Brunswick, Aidem is adding a brand-new section to her résumé — by helming a sequel (of sorts) to a classic play that’s more than 100 years old.






Event calendar
Thursday, Jan 17, 2019


MUSIC


Open Mic Night! @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 7:30pm


THEATRE

"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm


KIDS

AMERICAN GIRL LIVE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 7:00pm

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