'The Great Gatsby — The Immersive Show' review — the 1920s are roaring again, old sport
Read our four-star review of The Great Gatsby — The Immersive Show, now in performances at the bespoke Gatsby Mansion in the Park Central Hotel New York.
The Roaring Twenties (of this century) didn’t exactly get off to the party-hearty start some of us may have hoped, unlike its 1920s predecessor as we remember it now. Of course, you can’t repeat the past — or, so Nick Carraway insists in The Great Gatsby. “Of course you can,” Gatsby counters.
Turns out Gatsby’s right. At the Park Central Hotel, where The Great Gatsby - The Immersive Show has landed stateside after a record-breaking U.K. run, the alluring, pulsing glamour of the ‘20s is alive in full glory.
Production company Immersive Everywhere has transformed a wing of the hotel into the Gatsby Mansion, where we, the audience, are guests at one of Gatsby’s legendary parties. So are all the characters from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, and among them — and us — the classic story unfolds.
It doesn’t do so in the same linear fashion of the book, of course. We do begin in the same way, with Nick Carraway as narrator, introducing us to the fated title billionaire and his longtime love for the beautiful (and married) socialite Daisy Buchanan. After the opening scene in the main ballroom, which ends in a full-company (and audience-encouraged) Charleston dance, the party breaks up and different groups follow various characters into other rooms.
Unlike at a show like Sleep No More (arguably NYC's best-known immersive offering), where audiences are left to explore the venues and follow characters as they choose, Gatsby is more structured: You'll change locations when and where a character corrals you and others standing nearby. This setup makes Gatsby perfect for first-time immersive theatregoers, who might not otherwise know where to go or what to do. The downside is that you might not get to spend much time with the characters most interesting to you.
Regardless of where you go, you won't experience every room or scene in one go, making Gatsby ripe for repeat attendance. I, for one, spent most of the first act with Nick, Tom Buchanan (Daisy's pompous, cheating husband), and Myrtle Wilson (Tom's social-climbing mistress) in Tom's quarters, partaking in a loose recreation of the book's scene where he hits Myrtle for flippantly discussing Daisy.
I later detoured to the gambling table of the corrupt Meyer Wolfsheim (a minor character in the novel, who here gets upgraded to a principal role complete with a multi-instrument-and-tap-dance number at the top of Act 2), where we guests aided him and parlor performer Kitty in writing a love song for Daisy.
It is worth noting here that Gatsby is truly both immersive and interactive — you're not just in the world, watching the characters around you, but they're actively engaging with you throughout. Besides dancing with them during the aforementioned Charleston (the first of multiple dance breaks), you might supply Nick with a pickup line to use on sophisticated golfer Jordan Baker, take a photo with Jordan (as I did), or be enlisted by Gatsby himself as his personal assistant while he fretfully prepares to host Daisy for tea (as my +1 did).
As such, guests are encouraged to dress to theme (or at least dress up), and you run the risk of Gatsby remarking on it if you don't: "Most of you are dressed impeccably," he observes as he's perfecting his tea setup, then quips: "Please stand in front of someone who is not."
The small-group breakouts are less directly plucked from Fitzgerald's plot and more inspired by his world, and they make Gatsby stand out in the sense that they go beyond the novel and create a unique experience of the story. But stay in and around the ballroom if you want to watch the novel's key scenes play out.
You'll only get the broad strokes of the plot no matter what, but such is the nature of this kind of adaptation. (Not every Gatsby theatrical work can be Gatz, a 6-8-hour long staging of Fitzgerald's unabridged text.) That's not to say director Alexander Wright's adapted text is entirely banal — for example, the placement of Daisy and Gatsby's first tryst and Myrtle's fight with her desperate, possessive husband, George, illuminated a parallel between the two women I'd never considered in my many previous encounters with the story. Both women are caught between a loveless marriage and a troubled affair, and neither option will bring her real happiness.
The elusiveness of love and of the American Dream are the novel's most prescient, somber themes, and all the characters ultimately feel them. Those themes are still baked into this Gatsby, but the true draw is the party, to get swept up in a bygone era at its most lavish, liquored, and loose-limbed.
Does that mean this Gatsby entirely honors its source material? Perhaps not. But in the novel, Gatsby's countless houseguests are only interested in him when a party's going on, barely caring when he dies. Here, Gatsby's death happens with little fanfare, and shortly afterwards, the show ends and the audience is invited to stay and drink and dance the night away. Noting that parallel shouldn't spoil your enjoyment of this truly vivacious show, but it is a reminder that, again, we can repeat the past. And we do.
Photo credit: Jillian Anne Abaya, Shahzeb Hussain, Charlie Marcus, Keivon Akbari, Rob Brinkmann, Stephanie Rocío, and Mya Rosado-Tran in The Great Gatsby. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
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