The opulence of the jazz era — the proverbial Roaring Twenties — is what makes this story such a decadent delight on stage. It's also the bitter aftertaste that follows the tale of a man who tried to attain what so many before and after have reached for.
We like to tell our children that they can become anything they dream of becoming, but eventually childhood gives way to adulthood and the truth about how malleable our places in the world really are begins to seep in. We can improve ourselves vastly, yes, but sometimes, the simple truth is that you really can't get there from here.
Ah, but we can throw one hell of a party along the way.
Jay Gatsby did, and the elite of Long Island reveled with him in the beloved novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It's the stuff of the American Dream and Greek tragedy all tangled up together: Gatsby's fascination with Daisy Buchanan compels him to do extraordinarily well for himself, and this same fascination ultimately leads to his downfall.
The fact that Charleston Ballet resident choreographer Jill Eathorne Bahr set the literary classic to dance is tribute to her talent. The party scenes are naturally inclusive of dance, but interpreting the quieter moments of the novel in physical movement presents a more compelling challenge. Yet Gatsby's early sense of yearning — the eagerness to appear to the manor born — is all there, somehow, in the dance.
Chalk part of it up to Stephen Gabriel dancing such a fine Gatsby, looking every bit the part of the self-made millionaire, and Jessica Roan equally adept as Daisy. The feel of the character permeated the stage, as it should. The rise and fall of Gatsby parallels that of the prosperity and decadence that marked the 1920s and every lush set design, every lavish dance, prefigures the inevitable fall.
Standout performances include Alexander Collen as Gatsby's rival, Tom Buchanan, and Melody Staples as Myrtle.
Music by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Billie Holliday adds to the sweeping sense of grandeur and time gone by. While the narration between the musical pieces is helpful for following the story, the musical numbers are so delightful that one can't help but wish for more of them.
Of course, that's the point: as with Gatsby himself, the party can only go on for so long.