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Previews: 04/14/10- Close: 05/23/10 This Side Of Paradise
Reviewed for By: Ashley Griffin

Dixie Sheridan ©2020  RACHEL MOULTON as the Young Zelda

Blake Snyder coined the term “save the cat” in his 2005 screenwriting book of the same name to refer to “…The scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something – like saving a cat – that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.”

One of the biggest problems with “This Side of Paradise”, the new musical by Nancy Harrow and Will Pomerantz about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald and her husband F. Scott is that none of the main characters have a “save the cat” moment. Indeed the only person to have one is the minor character of the Fitzgerald’s daughter Scottie, and it happens three quarters of the way through the show. As a result, we just don’t really care about anyone. Because everyone in this musical does a lot of talking about how they feel, and not a lot of doing, we are left with no one, Scottie’s scene and song excepted, whom we care about and are rooting for.  It’s a problem.

Especially since the story of the Fitzgeralds is intriguing, infamous, and heartbreaking. Zelda and her husband met when they were both very young, and together had to deal with instant stardom with the success of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel “This Side of Paradise”, and of course his masterpiece “The Great Gatsby.” As Maureen Mueller who plays the older Zelda says in an interview for “obit” “Zelda’s singular…she got the spotlight on her and had nothing to deliver, like so many young girls today who get arrested for being drunk and crashing up their cars.” In fact, the Fitzgerald’s were the “it” couple of the 1920’s – much as Brad and Angelina are today. Zelda is credited with the invention of, and being the first flapper, and had shocking, reckless moments that would put Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton to shame. She ended up spending half her life in a mental institution where she died (in her forties) when the place caught fire.

Dixie Sheridan ©2020  Rachel Moulton and Michael Shawn Lewis

 Brilliant fodder for just about any art form.

Unfortunately, I learned all the information above from the article about Zelda Fitzgerald that was a part of my press kit. Not from the show.

There’s an incoherence to “This Side of Paradise”. The songs, which apparently were written for a CD of music inspired by the Fitzgeralds by Composer/Lyricist/Co-Book Writer Nancy Harrow simply don’t advance the story. They sound like Jazz Cabaret songs that have been inserted into the show, and don’t do anything to help it along. It’s difficult to create such a jukebox musical – even if the songs were originally written with the subject matter in mind. The Who’s “Tommy” is a singular exception. Out of the nineteen songs, Young Zelda is featured, or is the only one singing on ten of them, giving the music a cabaretesque feel. And of the nineteen songs, five of them are reprises. Though the songs are Jazz songs, they don’t go far enough into the ‘20’s Jazz scene and sensibility to add to the culture or era being portrayed.

The show does attempt to deal with some interesting themes: What happens if you get your heart’s desire, but still aren’t happy? In a relationship, how responsible are you for the success, or downfall of your partner? However, these themes are vaguely stated, and talked about. We never see them in action. It’s almost as if the show isn’t sure if it wants to be a traditional musical, cabaret, or experimental piece. It was difficult to tell when we were, and who was speaking to whom.  Important characters (such as the man Zelda had an infamous, and marriage damaging affair with) appear onstage, but never speak at all, and indeed the incident is only ever talked about – and then for about thirty seconds.

The one exception was when the story turned to the Fitzgerald’s daughter Scottie. Scottie is played by the lovely Mandy Bruno whom I also had the privilege to see in “Frankenstein” (no not the Mel Brooks one, that other one, the off Broadway one…) where she was also the bright spot in the show. Ms. Bruno who has a sweet, Judy Garlandesque quality brings a beautiful depth to her role. She is aided by the fact that Scottie is the only character who has a clear “save the cat” moment. Here is the sweet, loving, but lonely daughter of two of the world’s most infamous people – one of whom is in a mental institution, and the other who is drinking himself to death. Yet she manages to be the only true adult in the family, and she is even given actions to demonstrate it. A clever conceit of the show is to show F. Scott and Scottie’s relationship through the lens of one of F. Scott’s short stories regarding a neglected daughter. “Scottie” turns down the opportunity of going to one of the grandest toy stores in the world where she can have “anything she wants” as she “already has enough” and “we’re not rich.” One of the most poignant moments in the show is when Scottie hugs her father and says, “I think in my next life I would not choose to be the daughter of a famous author.” Her sentiment sums up one of the themes of the show: wealth and success aren’t everything.

During her brief time onstage, Scottie functions as the narrator for what’s happening with her parents. This is when the show finally came alive, and we cared about them because we cared about her. I couldn’t help thinking how much more I would have enjoyed the show if Scottie had narrated everything.

It is difficult to talk with specifics about the different elements of the show. The costumes, set, lights, performances were all fine, but all fell into some sort of vague adequate, but not excellent category. Everything was “ok.” It was ironic that the show itself felt like a manifestation of the characters uncertainty as to who they were.

Theatre at St. Clements : 423 West 46th Street