Off-Broadway Review: THE GREAT GATSBY — THE IMMERSIVE SHOW (Gatsby Mansion in the Park Central Hotel)

Post image for Off-Broadway Review: THE GREAT GATSBY — THE IMMERSIVE SHOW  (Gatsby Mansion in the Park Central Hotel)

by Gregory Fletcher on August 18, 2023

in Theater-New York


If you love literature, have fond memories of being read to or of reading to others, and feel, as so many do, that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby — the story of Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire who dreams of turning back time to regain his first love, Daisy Buchanan — is in the Pantheon of Great American Novels, and you also have an appetite for ambitious or unusual theater projects and, in particular, immersive theater events, it’d be foolhardy to not run down to The Gatsby Mansion (870 Seventh Avenue) and savor every moment of Immersive Everywhere’s production of The Great Gatsby. .

Jeremiah Ginn (Owl Eyes),
Claire Saunders (Myrtle Wilson), Charlie Marcus (Meyer Wolfsheim)
Jillian Anne Abaya (Daisy Buchanan) and Stephanie Rocío (Jordan Baker)

Within moments following the opening monologue by Nick Carraway (Rob Brinkmann), the story’s narrator and Gatsby’s neighbor, a fully choreographed production number involving a dozen cast members breaks out among us partygoers who are later coaxed into dancing the Charleston (Holly Beasley-Garrigan, choreographer). It feels as if one has stepped into Joseph Moncure March’s The Wild Party. This immersive experience rivals both its cousin, the current Off-Broadway hit Sleep No More, and one of the original productions of the genre, the 1981 play Tamara by John Krizanc, which ran eight years in L.A. and five years in New York. This theatrical experience may just have the same staying power.

Jillian Anne Abaya (Daisy Buchanan) and Joél Acosta (Jay Gatsby)

Created by Holly Beasley-Garrigan, Amie Burns Walker, Hannah Davies, Phil Grainger, Michael Lambourne, Thomas Maller and Oliver Tilney, it’s uncertain who the star of the show is — there are several choices. Is it the team of Casey Jay Andrews (Sets) and Faye Armon-Troncoso (Set Decoration & Props) who turned two basement floors of the Park Central Hotel into the multi-roomed, Art Deco Gatsby Mansion? It could also be Adapter and Director Alexander Wright, who masterminded the intricate storytelling of Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 novel, as well as the mind-boggling staging and traffic patterns between the main room and the surrounding labyrinth of locations. Or is it Costume Designer Vanessa Leuck, who fully transforms the cast into perfect period characters of the Roaring Twenties? Perhaps it’s the spot-on casting of protagonist Jay Gatsby (Joél Acosta), the handsome youngerJake Gyllenhaal lookalike who can be identified instantly in the crowd as the great Gatsby himself. The long list of multi-talented cast and crew are all stars in their own right.

Shahzeb Hussain (Tom Buchanan), Rob Brinkmann (Nick Carraway),
Stephanie Rocío (Jordan Baker), Jillian Anne Abaya (Daisy Buchanan),
Joél Acosta (Jay Gatsby)

Since two main themes in the book are social classes and the pursuit of the American Dream, it’s apropos to have a cast that resembles how America looks today instead of the usual white-only characters of Manhattan and Long Island’s North Shore —  we’re effectively in a multicultural Jazz Age in which the American Dream is elusive and no longer about creating a life — it’s simply about accumulating money (sound familiar?). Half the cast has significant professional credits while others are making their Off-Broadway debuts, yet there isn’t a flaw in the 14-actor company. With respect to the competent leads (Mr. Acosta, Mr. Brinkmann, and Jillian Anne Abaya as Daisy), the standouts for me include Keivon Akbari as George Wilson, Stephanie Rocio as Jordan Baker, and Stephanie Cha as Kitty Klipspringer who commands the room simply by quietly entering.

Stephanie Rocío (Jordan Baker) and Rob Brinkmann (Nick Carraway)

There are a few places to sit if needed (especially in the smaller rooms), but the urge or desire to rest never crossed my mind because you’re always on the move. Unlike the current Broadway production of Here Lies Love, the standing audience is maneuvered around by the actors themselves instead of wranglers with flashlights. For 90 minutes of Act I and 45-minutes of Act II, it’s a journey I wouldn’t give away a single minute.

Charlie Marcus (Meyer Wolfsheim) and Joél Acosta (Jay Gatsby)

Since small groups from the ballroom are shuffled through a maze of smaller sites, try separating from friends so that you can report back on missed scenes. (It’s impossible to see everything in one viewing.) I followed characters into two different sitting rooms, a salon, a small office with a telephone, and many hallways. I didn’t want to miss what was going on in the ballroom, but when the photographer Charlie (Mya Rosado-Tran) beckoned for me to leave, it proved to be delightful and informative. Plus, I got to Charlie’s photography darkroom where the toxic Tom Buchanan (Shahzeb Hussain) is conned. Later, I followed them into Gatsby’s personal office but missed the secret room behind the bookcase, whereupon a small group entered and crossed through.

Nicholas Caycedo (Joey), Keivon Akbari (George Wilson),
Stephanie Cha (Kitty Klipspringer), Anika Braganza (Gilda)

The difference between scripted dialogue and skillful period improvisation, which was required when speaking with audience members, is indiscernible. Most of the scenes in the smaller rooms exposed character back stories through gossip and confrontations. Thereafter, most of the relationships were clearly identifiable. Sadly, I missed connecting with Lucille (Kiki Burns) and her relationship with Gatsby, but she always intrigued me with her presence as she crossed through scenes.

Claire Saunders (Myrtle Wilson)

With a mixture of period and original music (by Tendai + Glen) performed live and recorded, often together, the aural ambiance was exciting and ideal. When the cast sang a rousing “Ain’t We Got Fun,” accompanied by keyboard, trumpet, and percussion, the party soared with a dynamic energy, and there was no denying the lyrics’ authenticity. (Peter Fitzgerald, Sound Designer; Phil Grainger, UK Sound Designer; Claire McKenzie, Music Director). Amazingly accurate, Jeff Croiter’s lighting was able to pinpoint characters out of the crowd and provide stunning looks to accompany the storytelling.

Jeremiah Ginn (Owl Eyes), Anika Braganza (Gilda),
Claire Saunders (Myrtle Wilson), Nicholas Caycedo (Joey),
Stephanie Cha (Kitty Klipspringer), Kiki Burns (Lucille)

Audiences are encouraged to dress in the fashions of the era, and I’d also recommend checking your bags and umbrellas because you won’t want anything in your hands except for a drink from the bar, which is open pre- and post-show, and intermission. After the curtain call, the partying continues with the actors out of costume.

Mya Rosado-Tran (Charlie McKee) and Shahzeb Hussain (Tom Buchanan)
Jeremiah Ginn (Owl Eyes),
Keivon Akbari (George Wilson), Kiki Burns (Lucille)

What’s even more astounding than mapping out all the constant character entrances and exits is the way the cast performs twice on Saturdays and Sundays! For the cast and crew, it’s an accomplished marathon. For us in the audience, it’s a party never to forget.

Kiki Burns (Lucille)

photos by Joan Marcus (2023)

The Great Gatsby – The immersive Show
Mansion in the Park Central Hotel,
870 7th Avenue at 56th Street
(use the GATSBY entrance next to Starbucks)
run time 2.5 hours, including one intermission
ages 14+ (anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult)
Tues at 7; Wed-Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on August 27, 2023 (20 previews and 68 regular performances)
for tickets, visit Immersive Gatsby

The Great Gatsby post-show party (Gregory Fletcher)

Leave a Comment