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Review: “The Great Gatsby” at Tyler Civic Theatre

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Friday-Sunday, October 14th-16th, Thursday-Sunday, October 20th-23rd (Evenings at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:30pm) – “The Great Gatsby” will be on stage at Tyler Civic Theatre. The only stage version allowed to be produced in the United States and Canada, this adaptation by Simon Levy clearly understands that Fitzgerald’s words are sacred and can’t be improved upon. What has been added, deleted or changed to adapt the story to the stage was so faithful to Fitzgerald that it is seamless. Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive in Tyler, next to the Tyler Rose Garden Center. For more info call (903)592-0561 or tylercivictheatre.com. The box office is open Monday-Friday, 10am-1pm and 2-5pm.

Reviewed by John Baggett

Chances are you remember “The Great Gatsby” in one of three ways – that movie with Robert Redford, that movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, or that book you were forced to read in high school. Starting tonight, Tyler Civic Theatre gives you a chance to remember it in a brand new way.

“The Great Gatsby” is the story of Nick Carraway (Christopher Fisher), a young man from the St. Paul, Minnesota, who has moved to New York to make his fortune as a bond man. Once he has settled, he goes to visit his cousin Daisy (Sara England), now the mother of a two year old girl and the wife of adulterous, racist, but wealthy, Tom Buchanan (R. Blake Rohus). Daisy is simultaneously excited to see her cousin, whom she hasn’t seen since he went off to the war, and is anxious to set him up with her friend, the golf pro, Jordan Baker (Alyssa Duke). Nick accidentally shakes things up when he tells Daisy that he lives in a small cottage next to the mansion of a mysterious millionaire named Gatsby (Jon Dickson), a man almost nobody knows except for his lavish parties.

Nick is shown around New York by Tom, taking him to clubs where he meets Tom’s mistress, Myrtle (Amanda Ratliff), the bored wife of mechanic George (Carlos Cuadros). One day, Nick is greeted at his home by a butler delivering to him an invitation to attend Mr. Gatsby’s next party. At the party, he runs into Jordan, meets eccentric gambler Meyer Wolfsheim (Jeremy Butler), and finally, the mysterious Gatsby himself. Gatsby and Nick both apologize to each other for not having properly introduced themselves to each other and the two form a fast friendship.

Gatsby and Nick bond over their days in the war, and Nick is charmed by Gatsby’s tales. However, Gatsby, while truly valuing Nick’s friendship, has a secret he slowly reveals to Nick, part of which he has Jordan explain. Five years ago, Gatsby and Daisy were in love and planned to marry, but during that time, he disappeared and a love sick Daisy settled down and married Tom. With Nick’s help, he plans to reenter Daisy’s life and marry her if he can get her to leave that pesky husband of hers.

“The Great Gatsby” is based on the novel by the great F. Scott Fitzgerald, and adapted for the stage by Simon Levy, who also adapted other Fitzgerald works for the stage, such as “The Last Tycoon” and “Tender is the Night.” The TCT production is directed by DeAnna Hargrove, and I must say that she did an excellent job putting this production together.

Fisher is excellent as Nick, bringing a brighter performance to the character than previous incarnations. Even though there is a love story in the show, he is the true emotional core of the story, starting as a wide eyed idealist ready to make his fortune, only to slowly become heartbroken as everyone around him seems to drag him and themselves down. It’s a much different, more serious performance than his role in “The Little Mermaid,” but he still manages to bring some much needed comic relief from time to time. Dickson is equally fantastic as Gatsby, bringing a performance that really brings out the tragedy of Jay Gatsby. I’m hoping to see more of him in future TCT productions.

England is great to watch as Daisy, balancing the sadness and the absolute frustration that the character is meant to invoke. She does a wonderful job playing a character that you start off rooting for only to sort of despise by the end of the story, and she has the chops to pull this off. Duke, who I’ve gotten to see in a handful of productions, is great as Jordan, channeling the combination of intrigue and ultimate disgust that I’ve always had for the character. Duke is a great actress and I always look forward to seeing her name on a cast list. Same goes for Amanda Ratliff, who seems to be having the most fun on stage as Myrtle. She is a true delight to watch, even as such a loathsome (at times) character.

In his third TCT performance, but my first to see, Rohus is fantastic as Tom Buchanan. He does a great job playing such a horrible character. I’m always impressed with an actor when he can truly make me despise his character, and Rohus pulls this off with perfection. Butler is great in his TCT debut. I may have said that Ratliff was having the most fun in her role, but Butler is right on her heels, in a smaller part that holds your attention. Also, in his TCT debut, Cuadros is heartbreaking as Wilson, and I hope to see him in more shows.

The rest of the cast is a delight to watch, including Samantha Friedrich as Mrs. McKee, a debut performance from Connor McCasland as her husband, Connor’s twin brother Caleb, and in multiple roles, TCT veteran Samantha McDanel as Mrs. Michaelis, and Joy Hartman-Robertson in multiple roles as well. These performers may not have been main characters, but they were fun to watch and fully rounded out this awesome production.

“The Great Gatsby” is another great production at Tyler Civic Theatre and whether you’ve read the book a thousand times or not at all, or seen the movies a thousand times, or not at all, I highly encourage you to go see it. It’s a truly fun way to watch such a tragic tale.

“The Great Gatsby” opens tonight, October 14th, at Tyler Civic Theatre and runs until October 23th.  For information about show times and tickets, visit tylercivictheatre.com or call (903)592-0561.

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