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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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Center Players Presents "The Emperor's New Duds"
(FREEHOLD, NJ) --  Center Players Dessert Theater will present a family-friendly production of “The Emperor’s New Duds” at Center Playhouse, 35 South St, in downtown Freehold, NJ from December 7 – 16. A musical adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” the play was written by Bernice Garfield-Szita, who co-directed the production with Enid Bush.
Centenary Stage’s Young Performers Workshop presents 2018 Winter Festival of Shows
(HACKETTSTOWN, NJ) -- Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Godspell is composed of various musical parables from The Gospel. Jesus Christ recruits a group of followers and teaches them various lessons through song and dance. Toward the end of the second act, the show begins to follow a more linear narrative as Jesus is betrayed by Judas and eventually crucified. Performances are Sunday, December 9 at 5:00pm; Saturday, December 15 at 8pm and Sunday, December 16 at 7:30pm.
The Shakespeare Theatre Presents "The Winter's Tale"
(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 from December 5 to December 30. 
American Theater Group Announces Full Cast & Creative For "Tell Them I'm Still Young"
(SOUTH ORANGE, NJ) -- American Theater Group has announced the full cast and creative team for its World Premiere production of Tell Them I’m Still Young, a new play by Julia Doolittle, which will run at the South Orange Performing Arts Center from January 24 - February 3, 2019. Joining the previously announced Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Streets, Men of a Certain Age, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) andMichele Pawk (Hollywood Arms, Hairspray, Mamma Mia) are Janice Amaya (Seen/Unseen) and Seth Clayton (The Madrid).
Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.

Broadway’s Mandy Gonzalez LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
Broadway is in the house at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts with a Fearless live concert performance by Broadway star, Mandy Gonzalez!
"The Spitfire Grill" and Caitlin Geisser Return To Their Roots
“I saw something in her that you rarely come across,” recalled Ted Wioncek III, Artistic Director at Eagle Theatre in Hammonton. “She’s more than wise beyond her years; I believe she’s going to be a game-changer and a trendsetter for this art form.”
Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
Jennifer Fawcett’s new play centers around a mother in a kitchen, doing something countless people across America will take part in over the upcoming holiday season: making an apple pie.
See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
Leapin’ Lizards! Annie’s finally made it to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ, and it stars Broadway’s original Annie, Andrea McArdle, as Miss Hannigan!

Event calendar
Saturday, Nov 17, 2018


THE GAY BLADES @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

HERMAN'S HERMITS STARRING PETER NOONE & THE BUCKINGHAMS @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

Nelson Riveros Trio: “The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery” @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Hawaiian Music and Hula @ 1867 Sanctuary at Ewing, Ewing - 8:00pm

Pop 2000 Tour @ iPlay America, Freehold - 7:00pm

THE MACHINE PERFORMS PINK FLOYD @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 8:00pm


Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm

Swamp Boogie Trio @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm


Annie @ Broad Street United Methodist Church, Burlington - 8:00pm

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Annie @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 8:00pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Billy Bishop Goes to War @ Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, Morristown - 2:00pm

Kiss Me Kate @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Phoenix Productions Presents: The Hunchback of Notre Dame @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Enchanted April @ The Summit Playhouse, Summit - 8:00pm

Heathers, The Musical High School Edition @ Pebble Players, Oakes Center, Summit - 7:30pm

Junie B. Jones The Musical at Black Box PAC @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 11:00am

Into the Woods @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm

The Drowsy Chaperone @ Lauren K. Woods Theatre at Monmouth University, West Long Branch - 8:00pm


Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm


BALLET FOLKLORICO DE MEXICO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


ROALD DAHL’S WILLY WONKA JR. @ Ridgewood Ave School Theater, Glen Ridge - 1:00pm and 7:00pm


Mainebiz Health Care Forum @ Mainebiz Health Care Forum, Newyork - 8:00pm

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