Gatsby at Cadogan Hall: An interview with Jodie Steele and Ross William Wild
Despite the fantastic efforts of the NHS, who are leading the country in great strides with COVID vaccinations, it is currently still unclear when theatres will be able to open again. Thankfully, the historic Cadogan Hall is broadcasting a digital concert revival of Gatsby: A Musical, featuring a stellar cast and running from 26th to 28th February 2021. Stars Jodie Steele (Heathers; Six: The Musical) and Ross William Wild (Elvis Presley in Million Dollar Quartet) granted us an interview to provide some insight into the show and the process.
What drew you towards The Great Gatsby?
Jodie Steele: I’ve always loved the book and the film! I was cast as Zelda Fitzgerald in a Workshop called Zelda back in 2018. I fell in love with her story – Daisy Buchanan is a figure that Scott Fitzgerald created inspired by his wife Zelda. When Linnie approached me in 2019 to take on Daisy I was thrilled. Every time I revisit this world I fall more in love with it.
Ross William Wild: Although the novel is named after the character, I don’t think that he serves as the penultimate protagonist for the piece. Rather, Daisy and Nick share the responsibility of the narrative, and Gatsby himself serves as a concept and an abstract metaphor of “The American Dream”. It’s probably for this reason that I was drawn to the character. He’s mysterious yet binary; he’s complicated yet systematic.
What was the first musical you saw?
JS: Oh gosh, I think it was a version of The Jungle Book that I vividly remember watching as a kid in my local theatre!
RWW: Jesus Christ Superstar, when I was about eight.
Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan are tough characters to portray. Does a concert production change the way you see them?
JS: It shouldn’t. But of course, our physicality with one another is limited – this is where people’s imaginations must come into play. This is just the beginning for the adaption of this musical. Hopefully it will find a home in a huge theatre with full production values!
RWW: In a concert setting we are almost afforded a more intimate view of the language and music. Due to COVID regulations everything had to be done at a distance, therefore one must contain actions and let the literature do the talking. The script is immaculate, and I was lucky in that I didn’t have to search for long to make a piece of dialogue or song make sense to me, so there was adequate time to ensure the story was told correctly within the parameters of a concept.
In what ways do Joe Evans’s lyrics and music influence the way we think about The Great Gatsby and its themes?
JS: Joe is a very passionate writer and musician. The songs are so romantic and they flirt with you – spot on for this story and these characters, always flirting with one another… or danger! Others are like lullabies and some build so much tension you feel like you’re going to pop. It’s that underlying tension that bubbles throughout the whole story: the idea of mystery. We feel that as the cast. Hopefully the result of that is the audience feeling a little dazed and nervous, yet excited, which is a reflection of how Daisy feels back and forth throughout this production.
RWW: Joe Evans has written the most stunning music for the show. It is both evocative of the 1920s and modern in its approach. The songs provide an intimate insight into the minds of the characters and serve as an excellent vehicle to transport us to both the decadent and depraved worlds that they inhabit.
There have, of course, been many Gatsby adaptations, both on the screen and the stage over the years. What makes this one different?
JS: It’s told from Daisy’s point of view. And it’s about time, right?
In what ways is Gatsby still relevant today? What can it teach us about COVID-19 (if anything)?
JS: To always wear a mask! Haha! They loved a good party with a masquerade theme back then! They had also just come out of a pandemic during the 1920s! How crazy! On a serious note though, it expresses the importance of being around the people we love and that life is simply far too short to waste any time.
RWW: Gatsby is very relevant today because people are what they want others to believe. Gatsby assembled every part of his life, character and image to fit his idea of perfection. But just as Gatsby loses himself in the process, people today struggle with accepting themselves for who they are, due to the expectations of others and the expectations they put on themselves thanks to mediums such as social media. Gatsby is a warning.
As Linnie Reedman said, the Roaring Twenties came after a global pandemic – can you see any other parallels between then and now?
JS: Well, I guess we will have to see how people react when this is finally over. I’m sure people are desperate to get out and party and socialise their worries away! We have been fortunate with technology through this pandemic – they had just finished the First World War [straight] into the Spanish Flu. I can’t imagine how horrendous that must have been for people back then.
RWW: Yeah. Everyone’s got a bathtub of gin these days. Lockdown made us all alcoholics! But seriously, I think Prohibition and the heavy hand of the state can be compared with the regression of freedoms we are experiencing due to the pandemic. But we’re allowed the booze at least!
How do the rehearsals work, and have they changed drastically through COVID-19?
JS: Of course! We all stand away from one another and wear masks whenever we aren’t acting. It’s so different but needs must right now! I’m just grateful to be able to be creative in a time like this. It’s been a short but sweet rehearsal process, but I love the thrill of that!
RWW: Rehearsals were tough but massively enjoyable. Any excuse to get out the house right now! Everyone was so strict with COVID regulations and, although it was drastically different to other rehearsal processes, I absolutely loved it. Such an awesome team.
Considering the pandemic’s impact on theatre, do you think we’ll ever return to the way it was before?
JS: Yes. And I think it’s going to boom!
RWW: I’m positive theatre will find a way to survive and thrive. The industry is full of creative minds and brilliant thinkers. Theatre will never die.
Are there any other exciting projects lined up for either of you in the near future?
JS: There are! Liam [Doyle – her partner] has a great job lined up! And I get to reintroduce myself to Katherine Howard! Very, very lucky!
RWW: My band Mercutio has just had to postpone our UK tour in April/May but we are hopefully going to be back on the road at the end of summer, fingers crossed! We’ve just finished our album, which will be out in the next few months. Check out Mercutio on Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube!
Thank you so much for your time!
Watch a trailer for the production here: