Noah J. Ricketts as Nick Carraway in Paper Mill Playhouse's The Great Gatsby, directed by Marc Bruni. Photo © Jeremy Daniel
For 85 years, Paper Mill Playhouse has presented musicals and plays with loving flair. The house is saturated in history – near financial ruin, fire, and a devotion to theatrical arts. For a banner anniversary, the theater unfurls a resplendent, largely glorious world premiere production of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby reflecting the complications of romance. Book a seat on the Morris & Essex New Jersey Transit line for the musical ride of your life.
The jazz age novel, a high school English curriculum favorite, translates superbly well to the stage. The production is richly beset with gorgeous sets, lights and costumes, a spry knowing intelligent book, and witty lyrics with amazing performances by a gloriously talented, intelligent cast. Resplendence abounds.
Jeremy Jordan, especially Eva Noblezada, Samantha Pauly, Noah J. Ricketts, and John Zdrojeski are perfectly cast. They sing beautifully, whipping the audience into frenzy with several numbers filled with hopeful possibility of a happy ending. And Stanley W. Mathis is a welcome addition to any cast. His Wolfsheim’s menace meshes well with Zdrojeski’s ill founded, but increasingly protective jealousy.
Noah J. Ricketts as Nick Carraway, John Zdrojeski as Tom Buchanan, Eva Noblezada as Daisy Buchanan, Samantha Pauly as Jordan Baker. Photo ©Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made
In the spring of 1922, World War I vet Nick Carroway (Ricketts) rents a cottage in West Egg on Long Island provided by fellow veteran and new money millionaire Jay Gatsby (Jordan). Across the water in the more refined village of East Egg live his cousin Daisy (Noblezada) and her brutish, absurdly old-money wealthy husband Tom Buchanan (Zdrojeski).
At the Buchanan’s for dinner, Nick meets Jordan Baker (Pauly), a friend of Daisy’s and a well-known golf champion. The two set off for a party at the mysterious Jay Gatsby’s palatial mansion. Gatsby urges Nick to invite Daisy to lunch at Nick’s. Gatsby has spent the last five years building his wealth, mansion, and persona to win back Daisy. Turns out the Buchanan’s are unhappily married – with Tom having an affair with mechanic/gas station owner Tom Wilson’s (Paul Whitty) wife Myrtle (Sara Chase). The complications laid plain as tragedy ensues.
Ricketts finds himself drawn increasingly into the more flamboyant lives of others. His performance is open and genuine. Pauly shatters her cynicism for the possibility of passionate love. Their performances are nothing short of perfection.
With resplendent, gorgeous sets and projections by Paul Tate dePoo III, the tone and look are quickly set. The Long Island sound with slightly stormy water and ominous clouds greets the audience, before it rises to reveal a massive party in Gatsby’s plush mansion. dePoo accurately recreates Grand Central Station and vividly contrasts the wealth with the Wilson’s garage with an eye doctor’s billboard looming over it. The detail is admirable and Tony-worthy. Linda Cho’s costumes are equally impressive – rendering party goers in high fashion; perfectly-tailored suits for Gatsby and Tom; and an array of dresses for the women. Cory Pattak’s lighting design gloriously and delicately compliments, working in great synchronicity with the sets to move from bright to ominous. It is particularly deft with the Wilson’s gas station and billboard. The design elements deserve their own ovation.
Jeremy Jordan as Jay Gatsby. Photo ©Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made
Kait Kerrigan’s book and the lyrics by Nathan Tysen are wonderful. They craft – with Jason Howland’s music several anthemic songs that will assuredly be utilized for auditions and cabarets for decades to come. Howland’s score surprisingly lacks jazz. For such a confident production, we’re given well-crafted music that leans more towards restraint than possibility. And perhaps that’s in keeping with director Mark Bruni’s vision of the novel, richly appointed passion tamping the tragedy to come.
That Howland saddles Jordan with some high notes in his first number convey nervousness for the character. But they undercut a steely confident, performance and characterization. Nobelzoda sings gorgeously and embodies Daisy with a steely resolve and unhappiness. There is a richness to Kerrigan’s book and Bruni’s direction – that builds groundswells of emotion for all the performers.
We, too, want the long-awaited reunion between this ex-poor boy soldier and his society-girl muse to be perfect. He’s worked so hard and waited for so long, after all. He made something of himself against all odds—now he’s no longer just “some nobody” whom Daisy’s father forbids her from marrying. It’s all rewarded the moment their eyes meet.
Jeremy Jordan as Jay Gatsby, Eva Noblezada as Daisy Buchanan, Samantha Pauly as Jordan Baker. Photo ©Jeremy Daniel
Jeremy Jordan (Gatsby) embodies smooth charm and loving determination for Daisy (Eva Nobeldoza). Rickett’s Nick is all brisk sweetness—and he interacts in a very inclusive, kind way with the audience, shrugging and apologizing at all the craziness he embarrassingly but gradually enthusiastically finds himself caught up in. Daisy and Jordan Baker are archetypal good time girls painfully aware of the thin ice beneath their whirling heels and golf clubs. We believe their friendship is built on more than convenience.
Kerrigan’s book and Tysen’s lyrics offer many ingeniously sly degrees to shape all the characters and situations. Marc Bruni’s directly weaves these elements to perfection in brilliantly paced, loving production. It honors Fitzgerald’s narrative rhythms and infectious seduction in wonderful ways.
Fitzgerald’s themes are patently and brilliantly laid out by the gorgeous production. Though you can’t turn back time or recapture certain youthful dreams, you can yearn. Do all you can to grab a ticket for Paper Mill’s scintillating production of The Great Gatsby.
Eva Noblezada as Daisy Buchanan and Jeremy Jordan as Jay Gatsby. Photo ©Jeremy Daniel
Tickets and more information at www.papermill.org - performances run through November 12, 2023. Paper Mill Playhouse is located at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, New Jersey.