24 May 2013

The Great Gatsby Musical at The Riverside (delightful)

My selection process for going to see The Great Gatsby Musical at The Riverside was simple.

I was working away from home for a few days and was travelling back on the Friday night so I was looking for somewhere to go that evening on the way home. The Riverside was the first place that I looked as I have to travel through Hammersmith anyway and their programme never fails to interest me.

I knew nothing of The Great Gatsby having skilfully avoided the book and both films and I still treat musicals with some unease (despite some good experiences) so this was something of a leap of faith relying on the Riverside to impress me again. It did.

Studio 3 was set more fully than usual and while I usually prefer bare stages this one won me over. The reason it did that was because the comfortable sitting room became several other locations, including a beach and a garage, without changing a stick. It's the flexibility of bare stages that I like so using a busy one flexibly is likeable too.

A largeish cast poured on to the stage and we soon met the coquettish leading lady, her brusque husband and several bubbly friends and family.

Gatsby we did not meet until much later, but you probably knew that.

At one side of the stage was a small group of musicians supported, at times, by members of the cast.

It was my sort of musical with the balance between words and songs firmly on the side of words but with enough songs for them to be more than incidental distractions. The songs were very good too and there was quite a lot of bouncing along in the audience, especially when some of the themes repeated.

One of my favourite songs had the cast and musicians spread out across the whole width of the stage. I like little details like that as they show that some serious thought has gone in to the staging.

Eventually we met the much heralded Gatsby and he was every inch the shy, ex-soldier who had made a fortune. He dominated the stage by moving through it slowly and speaking gently.Contrasting brashness came from the husband and his then current floosie.

The story had me gripped. The darkness was never far away (the husband saw to that) and that presaged an unhappy ending but there was also a great deal of humour plus those good songs. That is why I found it delightful.

This was a play with songs and that meant we had actors who could sing rather than singers who could act and that meant that some of the voices were a little weak but that was easily solved by sitting in the second row. Also the acting was the important part and all of the actors were good, or better.

I never expected to pay much attention to The Great Gatsby in my life and I certainly did not expect a musical version of it. All that proves is that the unexpected can also be excellent. And this was excellent.

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