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‘Gatsby’ at ART reimagines Fitzgerald’s classic tale

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘Gatsby’ at ART reimagines Fitzgerald’s classic tale
Lighting Designer Alan C. Edwards, Scenic Designer Mimi Lien, Director Rachel Chavkin, Choreographer Sonya Tayeh and Costume Designer Sandy Powell in rehearsal for “Gatsby,” at A.R.T. PHOTO: Ken Yotsukura

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“The Great Gatsby” is about to get a shakeup beyond author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wildest dreams. A new musical adaptation, “Gatsby,” makes its world premiere at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) this month featuring a refreshingly diverse cast and an all-star creative team.

The classic American novel and the coming musical probe the themes of the American dream, class, immigration, gender and displacement. Set in the 1920s with the backdrop of glittering parties, complicated characters try to drown their existential dread in glasses of bootleg champagne.

“Gatsby” includes a score by famed rock star Florence Welch (Florence + The Machine) and Oscar and Grammy Award nominee Thomas Bartlett (Doveman) as well as a book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Martyna Majok (“Cost of Living”) and direction by Tony Award-winning director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”).

“Through the visceral visions of Florence, Thomas and Martyna, ‘Gatsby’ will meet Fitzgerald’s romantic and painful story head-on and I think illuminate so much about this incredible American tragedy,” says Chavkin. “I can’t wait to share it with folks.”

“Gatsby” bookwriter Martyna Majok during rehearsal. PHOTO: Ken Yotsukura

The core cast includes Isaac Powell as Gatsby, Charlotte MacInnes as Daisy, Ben Levi Ross as Nick, Cory Jeacoma as Tom, Eleri Ward as Jordan, Solea Pfeiffer as Myrtle, Matthew Amira as Wilson and Adam Grupper as Wolfsheim.

Both Powell and Pfeiffer are of mixed-race African American backgrounds, a profound but fitting shift from the original novel.

“It’s very, very exciting to take up space specifically as yourself within a story,” says Pfeiffer. “I think that is something that doesn’t necessarily happen for mixed-race people of all combinations, most of the time.”

Those characters share other similarities as well; they are both primarily in pursuit of their own happiness and pleasure, a trait that is lauded in male Gatsby and disdained in female Myrtle. Pfeiffer says the audience spends more time with Myrtle and her husband George in the musical than in the book, which allows for a deeper understanding of their characters.

“Gatsby” runs at A.R.T. through Aug. 3. Tickets start at $35 with discounts available for seniors, military personnel, Harvard faculty and staff and SNAP/EBT, WIC or ConnectorCare cardholders.

A century after the events of “Gatsby” are set, there’s still a lot to unpack in this story. Set in a financial crash in the wake of a pandemic, with volatile political and social systems, fear of immigration and systemic racism and sexism, the “Gatsby” world will feel remarkably familiar to contemporary audiences.

“I want people to walk away from this story thinking about how accustomed we have gotten to seeing certain bodies being on the other end of violence,” says Pfeiffer. “How can we examine that this country has been built in a way that has allowed us to treat each other like this? When do we stand up for our neighbors?”

American Repertory Theater, arts, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Florence Welch, Gatsby, Rachel Chavkin, theatre