Song & Stage

Play Review: ‘The Great Gatsby’ at Bay Street Theater Is a Must-See

The classic book comes to life on your local stage!

From the moment you sit down facing the giant eyes from the iconic book cover and the art deco back wall, it’s as if you’ve stepped inside a time machine rewinding back to 1920s Long Island. That feeling intensifies as the opening dance number begins—dapper men and flapper girls dance to the brassy sounds of the Jazz Age as vintage projections of dancers screen behind them. This is the Literature Live! production of The Great Gatsby at Bay Street Theater.

Director Joe Minutillo, composer Michael Holland, choreographer Stephanie Vertichio and the rest of the creative team have lovingly taken F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel and breathed new life into it, while remaining true to the source material.

Told in chapters, not acts, each is broken up by Nick Carraway’s thoughtful monologues, delivered expertly by John Kroft. As the narrator and moral center of the play, Nick endears the audience to him with his devotion to Gatsby and righteous anger at the hypocrisy and selfishness of the era. Kroft’s captivating performance grips you from minute one to ninety-five.

Sara Carolynn Kennedy, Alexandra Kopko, John Kroft and Dan Fenaughty in the Literature Live! production of
Sara Carolynn Kennedy (Daisy), Alexandra Kopko (Jordan), John Kroft (Nick) and Dan Fenaughty (Tom), Photo: Lenny Stucker

In the opening chapter of the play, the atmosphere is beguiling, largely due to the boundless charm and energy emanating from Sara Carolynn Kennedy’s Daisy Buchanan. Her sweet persona is complemented perfectly by the sultry spunk of Alexandra Kopko’s Jordan Baker. Whether lounging around, dancing or flirting, the leading ladies of the play are an absolute delight to watch. Kennedy and Kopko bring an immense amount of personality and whimsy to the roles, expertly switching to a more somber or emotional tone when the script calls for it.

As the play progresses, there’s an increasing sense of doom, palpable even to those who haven’t read or simply forget how The Great Gatsby ends. Much of the tension is caused by Dan Fenaughty’s Tom Buchanan, who dominates the stage with his commanding presence and machismo. Always the loudest voice, he often interrupts Daisy, goes on racist rants and interrogates Gatsby about his rumored past.

The audience is given a moment’s respite from the drama with a thrilling dance number during the closet scene. Brightly colored shirts are strewn about the stage as dancers use them to lasso their partners to infectious Jazz music. It’s difficult to believe that Holland didn’t grow up during the Roaring Twenties, because his compositions are indistinguishable from the classic music of the Jazz Age.

Charlie Westfal’s portrayal of Jay Gatsby is the definitive version of the classic character. Every nuance and complexity of Gatsby’s psyche is masterfully captured and put on display—appearing mysterious yet endearing, bold yet insecure. The moment when he finally goes head to head with Tom—or rather, fist to fist, —is intense and all too believable thanks to fight director Christian Kelly-Sordelet. It’s woefully clear at this point in the play that these two men have decided what they think is best for Daisy, despite her strong opinions.

Sara Carolynn Kennedy, Charlie Westfal and John Kroft in Literature Live! production of
Sara Carolynn Kennedy (Daisy), Charlie Westfal (Gatsby) and John Kroft (Nick) in “The Great Gatsby,” Photo: Lenny Stucker

Choosing to leave Wilson (Chauncy Thomas) onstage clutching his dead wife Myrtle’s (Amanda Kristin Nichols) body juxtaposed by Gatsby, her unintentional murderer, relaxing poolside brilliantly brings the looming sense of doom to its painful conclusion, with Wilson revenge-killing Gatsby. The final moments of the play, when Nick screams at the Buchanans for retreating into their money, brings a fitting conclusion to this poignant exposé of the American Dream.

There really is something magical about seeing The Great Gatsby come to life onstage. Whether you’re a fan of the book or you’ve never read it, this production will delight and astound you with its incredible story telling, impeccable acting and exciting dance numbers. This must-read novel is a must-see play.

Public performances of The Great Gatsby take place on November 15–17 and 23–25. Tickets can be purchased online at baystreet.org or by calling the box office at 631-725-9500. Free weekday school group performances can be booked by emailing mary@baystreet.org.

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