In the 1920s, Groucho Marx rented this house on the...

In the 1920s, Groucho Marx rented this house on the Gold Coast. Today it belongs to Bill O'Reilly. Credit: Great Gatsby Boat Tour/Victor Mirontschuk

Anyone who has ever read “The Great Gatsby” — and face it, that’s pretty much all of us — will immediately recognize the green light that casts a luminous glow over the stage at the Broadway Theatre.

Before the first note is ever played, audiences are transported to the North Shore of Long Island, where F. Scott Fitzgerald set his iconic novel celebrating the Jazz Age and the search for the American dream. In the novel, the green light shining from the end of a dock on East Egg (Long Islanders call it Sands Point) is symbolic of Gatsby’s quest, both for love and for success. In the new musical adaptation, in previews for an April 25 opening, it gets its own song.

“Sometimes it’s winking, sometimes it’s warning,” sings Jay Gatsby, portrayed by Tony nominee Jeremy Jordan (“Newsies”). “That sound ‘cross the bay was you calling,” replies Daisy, played by fellow Tony nominee Eva Noblezada (“Hadestown”). The song, “My Green Light,” closes the first act by emphasizing their mutual longing. “What’s beautiful about the song is the tension,” says Kait Kerrigan, who did the adaptation. “Both of them are feeling the danger of what they’re doing, there’s a warning attached.”

Jeremy Jordan plays Jay Gatsby and Eva Noblezada is Daisy...

Jeremy Jordan plays Jay Gatsby and Eva Noblezada is Daisy in "The Great Gatsby,” which opens April 25 at the Broadway Theatre. Credit: Matthew Murphy

Kerrigan has been working on the show since the pandemic. She explains that Korean producer Chunsoo Shin was “so moved by this very American story” that he commissioned her to write a musical version to be translated into Korean. Is that even allowed? Yes, since January, 2021, when the novel entered the public domain (explaining why yet another musical version is in the works at American Repertory Theater in Boston with music by Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine).

After several workshops, Kerrigan, collaborating with Jason Howland (her husband) and Nathan Tysen on the music, concluded it would be beneficial to present the piece in English first, and mounted a production at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey last fall. The success of that production — the run was sold out before the first performance — led to a Broadway transfer, though plans are still to take it to Korea at some point.


Eva Noblezada and Jeremy Jordan of “The Great Gatsby” at...

Eva Noblezada and Jeremy Jordan of “The Great Gatsby” at the de Serversky Mansion in Glen Head. Credit: Matthew Murphy/Matthew Murphy

Kerrigan says she had some very specific goals in approaching the project, notably making the characters “flesh and blood people.” Gatsby is somewhat mysterious in the book, but for the musical Kerrigan felt he needed to be more than a symbol. “In the novel,” she says, “you look at him as an idea … but he has to become somebody that you care about.”

Kerrigan was especially interested in fleshing out the female characters. “I didn’t feel emotionally connected” to any of the women, she says. Daisy is an especially fascinating character, she says. “She’s really complex and she’s not 100% likeable. Those are interesting qualities to explore.”

Kerrigan lifted many lines directly from the novel, promising numerous Easter Eggs for people who love “Gatsby” and Fitzgerald. “Anywhere that I could pull from his language, anywhere the lyrics could pull from his language, we did it,” she says. “There are so many iconic, beautiful moments, we wanted to pay homage to them.’’ Still, she acknowledges tinkering with some of the plot lines, eliminating many of flashbacks and occasionally reversing the order (Daisy’s well-known line at the beginning of the novel about wishing her daughter to be “a beautiful fool” now comes at the end of the show).


For people who truly love the novel, this might be considered heresy. Paula Uruburu, a professor at Hofstra University who saw the show recently, says “Gatsby” is one of her favorite novels. “It’s still one of the go-to novels they teach in high school,” says the Lindenhurst resident. “The plot is fairly simple and it’s relatively short for a classic novel.”

The novel has special meaning if you grew up in New York, she says. “Long Island is such a feature of the novel,” she says. “There are very few famous classic novels that you could say are set where you grew up.”

Uruburu has taught “Gatsby” for the past 40 years, including in her current film adaptation class — there are four “Gatsby” films including a 1926 silent version. Her immediate reaction to the musical was “if I weren’t so familiar with it I would have enjoyed the show more.”

Noting that any adaptation of a well-known text is daunting, she recognizes that the main challenge is pleasing the audience. “The sets, the music, the dancing, the costumes,” she says, “all capture the zeitgeist of the Jazz Age in its wild optimism and potential for corruption.” Several songs convey the Roaring Twenties spirit of the novel, she says, though admitting she was waiting for one called “her voice is full of money” — a famous line from the book.

Walter Raubicheck of Elmont, who teaches literature at Pace University in Manhattan, has not seen the musical and says he’s concerned about how “my favorite book” will be portrayed. “I love to read the book because of the style,” he says. “Sentence for sentence, it’s stunning writing … 'The Great Gatsby'   deserves its reputation as his [Fitzgerald's] masterpiece.”

A member of the F. Scott Fitgerald Society, Raubicheck sheds some light on the Long Island connection, explaining that the author lived in Great Neck when he started to write the novel. The book “is certainly set on Long Island,” he says, adding Fitzgerald spent a lot of time with his friend Ring Lardner, who lived on Manhasset Bay. “They used to drink together on the porch overlooking the bay,” says Raubicheck. “I’m sure one night they saw a green light across the water.” But Fitzgerald did not live on the water, his home was in town (6 Gateway Dr.), a short walk from the Long Island Rail Road.

In the 1920s, Groucho Marx rented this house on the...

In the 1920s, Groucho Marx rented this house on the Gold Coast. Today it belongs to Bill O'Reilly. Credit: Great Gatsby Boat Tour/Victor Mirontschuk

The Lardner home was probably on Fitzgerald’s mind as he was writing. But Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, attended many parties in Gold Coast mansions when they lived on the Island from 1922 to 1924. Eleanor Cox-Nihill, who runs Gatsby boat tours every summer, shows customers several houses on the tour that were around in Fitzgerald’s time. The tour covers Sands Point (East Egg in the book) where celebrities like financiers Jock Whitney had homes, and Great Neck (West Egg), where Oscar Hammerstein lived for a time. The Gold Coast attracted other notables of the era, including comedian Groucho Marx.

People always want to know which is the Gatsby house, says Cox-Nihill, but she quickly shoots that down. “There was no one house,” she says. “This is fiction. I try to encourage them to soak up what they’re looking at.” Meanwhile, Raubicheck points out, the author spent the summer of 1920 in a small cottage in Westport, Connecticut, next door to a grand mansion where the owner threw wild parties, very much like the setting in the novel. “When he started writing the book in 1923,” says Raubicheck, “I think he had both Long Island and Connecticut in mind.”


As to whether one person inspired Gatsby, Fitzgerald scholars seem to believe the character was a composite as well, though a current podcast on Audible takes a hard look at Max Gerlach. The Manhattan bootlegger threw lavish parties, never wore the same shirt twice (the show has fun with Gatsby’s ginormous collection of shirts) and was fond of the phrase “Old Sport,” oft used by Gatsby, presumably to give the impression he came from old money. Despite all that, Raubicheck believes Gatsby is many people, including Fitzgerald himself. “I’m sure Gerlach and other people he met were on his mind,” says Raubicheck. “I never subscribe to the one-on-one theory with Fitzgerald.”

As portrayed by Jordan, Gatsby comes off as a man who wears many masks, trying to convince the world he is a debonair bon vivant. In Kerrigan’s mind, Gatsby is a “complicated tragic hero.” She describes him as someone with a lot of ambition, who in order to create opportunity “lies a lot. And he was really good at it.” For Gatsby, she says, the nearer he got to his dream, the further it slipped away. “The closer he gets to his goal,” she says, “the dream turns into something that’s a bit toxic and not actually achievable.”

Thinking about what Fitzgerald would make of bringing his masterwork to the stage, Kerrigan believes he would have loved it. “I like to think if we had F. Scott Fitzgerald around, he would understand and we could work it out together. He did love Broadway,” she says, “and he loved theater. I think he would want to make this a great success.”


Lose yourself in the world of “The Great Gatsby” with a two-hour boat tour of Manhasset Bay. Eleanor Cox-Nihill has been leading the tours since 2008, taking guests out into the bay for a glimpse of the homes that were around when Fitzgerald was writing the novel.

Customers include fans of the book, fans of the time period and people who simply enjoy a nice boat ride, she says, adding that Baz Luhrmann took the tour prior to shooting his 2013 movie adaptation.

WHEN | WHERE 1-3 p.m. June 8 and 22, July 14 and Sept. 8, leaving from Inspiration Wharf, 405 Main St., Port Washington

INFO $45; 917-941-4504,

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