By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter
“The Great Gatsby” at Palisades Charter High School brings the glitz of prohibition-era New York to modern day Pacific Palisades through a clever blend of contemporary music and dance paired nicely with 1920s set-design, costuming and actor affectations.
On opening night, “Gatsby” got off to a rousing start, as a flapper dancer ensemble introduced the play’s grand revelry with a pulsing number set to modern music.
“A little party never killed nobody,” the song’s vocal track wailed (thanks, Fergie), in a glib bit of foreshadowing that caught the ear of all those familiar with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale.
Pali’s adaptation, directed by sisters Cheri and Monique Smith, made effective use of these glamorous dance numbers throughout the evening.
Set to the electronic and hip-hop-infused soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 “Gatsby” adaption, the dances conveyed the rebellious energy of the play’s setting for modern ears and eyes—an effective translation rather than a jolting departure.
With the scene set, Jack Butler’s opening monologue as narrator Nick Carraway proved that Pali’s “Gatsby” was in good hands.
From his opening lines, Butler nailed the wistful, Midwestern cadence of the reflective Carraway.
In a relatively understated role, his quietly expressive monologues were a highlight of the performance, even before his emotional final address allowed Butler to flex more dramatic theatrical muscles.
A quartet of wealthy characters, all self-absorbed in their own ways, made up the rest of the core cast.
As leading women, Fiona Aular and Gabi Feingold were complementary: Aular’s Daisy Buchanan was all the more breathless and distant alongside Feingold’s cunning, confident (and often downright funny) Jordan Baker, and vice versa.
When sharing the stage with Daisy’s arrogant brute of a husband Tom Buchanan (Ezra Schoeplein), the three displayed their connection as actors through the disconnect of their characters—cutting one another off mid-speech, each moving the conversation in their own direction.
And Jagger Hunt brought proper nuance to Jay Gatsby, confident and suave at one moment, vulnerable and self-conscious in the next, but with consistency in his mannerisms and speech that brought the contradictory Gatsby to convincing life.
The story unfolded with plenty of creative staging, including a nicely executed sequence in which Baker narrated the tale of Gatsby and Daisy’s meeting stage-right, while actors portrayed the action stage-left.
Moments like this, along with musical interludes featuring gorgeous vocals from jazz singers Taylor Schonbuch and Enzo Alexander, kept the production’s pacing and atmosphere fresh.
And in their portrayal of Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson, and her husband George, Martha Ward and Declan Wells deserve credit for providing the evening’s emotional high-point. No moment gripped the audience quite so intensely as the couple’s violent exchange on stage shortly before the story’s climax.
The lives of “Gatsby’s” characters unravel in the aftermath, and the decadent world that Pali’s varied production built felt all the more real as it crumbled.
It was a somber ending to a story well told.
“The Great Gatsby” will appear in Mercer Hall on Nov. 9, 10 and 11 at 7 p.m., with an additional matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Nov. 11.
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