On Broadway: The History of The Great Gatsby Musical

When it comes to The Great Gatsby, I’m all in. I loved the book and have seen the Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio movies multiple times. But, despite Baz Luhrman’s seamless incorporation of music into the 2013 movie adaptation, I never would have considered this “great American novel” as the subject for a Broadway musical.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby flopped when first published in 1925. It’s hard to believe, given how revered the book is today, but it was not successful and was not well-regarded by Fitzgerald’s peers. However, despite its initial debut, the book is considered a classic today. Fitzgerald’s most famous novel has inspired artists and filmmakers alike. And while not all of the adaptations have been successful, others have elevated the story to greater heights. Could a Broadway musical do the same?

The Great Gatsby is no stranger to the theater; the first adaptation was created in 1926 when Owen Davis debuted his new production at The Ambassador Theater in New York City. The production ran for only 112 performances before closing its doors. In 1999, Will Holt and Hugh Wheeler tried their hands at a musical production in Utah, and although it didn’t make its way to Broadway, it did show that Gatsby could incorporate song and dance on stage. Then came the popular Broadway production of 2010, which wasn’t a musical but revived interest in seeing a stage production of the classic novel. The stage was set (pun intended) for someone to create an opulent and extravagant Broadway musical, and Shin Chun-Soo was ready to make it happen.

Knowing that The Great Gatsby would enter the public domain in 2021, Shin Chun-Soo adapted the story into a musical. The famous Korean producer gathered a team of creatives, including Kait Kerrigan, Nathan Tysen, Jason Howland (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), Marc Bruni, and Dominique Kelley, and submitted their treatment in January 2020. Initially, the musical was set to debut in Korea; however, because of the pandemic and issues with travel, even as the Coronavirus began to subside, the creative team had to work locally in the New York area to stage the film. This led to the world premiere at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2023.

But Shin Chun-Soo’s version wasn’t the only musical based on the Fitzgerald novel vying for a Broadway stage. As it turned out, a musical simply called Gatsby was gaining attention in Boston. It boasted songs from Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine and the direction of Rachel Chavkin of Hadestown fame. But the Chun-Soo and the creative team of The Great Gatsby pressed on regardless. They immediately turned to Broadway veterans Jeremy Jordan (Newsies) and Eva Noblezada (Hadestown), as well as a slew of other diverse actors to fill their cast. The initial run sold out, and Broadway seemed like a sure thing, but many changes had to be made.

Watch the full history of The Great Gatsby’s journey to Broadway in the video from Wait in the Wings below:

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