All That Jazz

DATE: Thursday, March 28, 2024

HCC Theater Department staging The Great Gatsby, April 11-13

Dress rehearsal for The Great Gatsby

While there is certainly a lyrical quality to the prose in F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, The Great Gatsby, set during the Jazz Age of the Roaring '20s, music, as important as it is to the story, does not literally project from the pages.

But it does literally sound from the stage during the Holyoke Community College spring theater production of "The Great Gatsby," which opens Thursday, April 11, and runs through Saturday, April 13. 

In this "Gatsby," a five-piece jazz band is part of the ensemble cast and lends a live soundtrack to the tragic tale of the mysterious Jay Gatsby and his pursuit of long-lost love Daisy Buchanan. 

Of all the theatrical adaptations now available – the copyright for the book expired in 2021 – HCC Theater Professor and director Patricia Sandoval chose the 2006 version written by playwright Simon Levy. 

"It's well written, it was approved by the Fitzgerald estate, and uses a lot of Fitzgerald's language in it," said Sandoval. 

More than that, she said, she liked that Levy's stage directions include music, but that the cues don't call for specific songs to be played – or live music at all, for that matter. 

"I liked that it was open ended," she said, "so we picked the music." 

The "we" in this case included herself, choreographer Tiffany Joseph, and guitarist and HCC Music Professor Bob Ferrier, the musical director and band leader for the play. 

The show opens with a big dance number set to Irving Berlin's "Putting on the Ritz." Benny Goodman's "Sing Sing Sing" leads the top of Act 2. The play also incorporates songs such as "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin and others not necessarily written before 1922, when the story is set. 

"We wanted to choose music that would be familiar to the audience," Sandoval said, "so they could feel a part of the energy. We wanted the music to be enjoyable." 

"And the dancing is wonderful," she added. "The Great Gatsby is a classic American story. The dancing is lively and lends to that story. It's entertaining, but it's also heartfelt." 

For those not familiar with it, The Great Gatsby, both the book and the play, is narrated by the humble Nick Caraway (played by student actor Zachary Ciano of Springfield), who has moved east to learn the New York City bond trade. Much of the action takes place in the fictional Long Island enclave of West Egg, where Carraway meets his suspiciously rich neighbor, Jay Gatsby (Liam Galpin of Easthampton), who enlists him in a plot to reconnect with Carraway's cousin, Daisy (Alison Smythe of Wilbraham), now married to an unfaithful brute named Tom Buchanan (Joe Wilcox of Westfield).   

"I find the story and the characters really compelling," Sandoval said. "The juxtaposition of the decadence and the elegance, the betrayal, and the quest for love. It's the story of humans – and the Jazz Age. The music of the era just really compelled me to celebrate that." 

While some may be familiar with Gatsby, Sandoval hopes audience members see the characters in the HCC production as more than stereotypes. 

"A lot has been written about this story, and a lot has been written about F. Scott Fitzgerald," Sandoval said, "but I think what I'm trying to find in it is the hope that the character of Gatsby possesses. Things happen, but we, as humans, keep moving forward, looking for hope and love." 

Additional Cast: Myrtle Wilson (Aolanis Figueroa Pinto, Holyoke);  George Wilson (Kazz Cuyler, Holyoke); Jordan Baker (Thea Shinholster, Springfield); Mr. McKee (Chandler Frantz, Easthampton); Mrs. McKee/Dancer 2/Policeman (Zoe Fydenkevez, Chicopee); Mrs. Michaelis (Clove Wood, Agawam); Meyer Wolfsheim/Party Host (Manual Morales, HCC alum); Dancer 1 (Serenety Rodriguez, Holyoke); Cigarette Girl (Wandeliz Gonzalez Marrero, Westfield); Drinks Girl (Gissel Santos, Holyoke).

 The Band: Bob Ferrier (guitar); Ken Forfia (piano); Andy Kivela (drums); Bruce Krasin (clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); HCC student Kai Caban of Amherst (bass).


"The Great Gatsby"
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Adapted for the stage by Simon Levy
Directed by Patricia Sandoval
April 11-13, 7:30 p.m.
April 13, 2 p.m.
April 12 show is ASL-interpreted
Holyoke Community College
Leslie Phillips Theater
Tickets: $5 (HCC students, staff, and faculty); $10 (general admission); $8 (seniors).
Available one hour before each show at the Leslie Phillips Box Office or call 413-552-2528 to reserve.