A ROARING TALE OF THE ‘20S

‘Gatsby’ brings new actors to SCHS stage
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Daisy Buchanan, played by Emma Etten, looks out at the audience admiringly with Jay Gatsby, played by C.J. Henning, as they imagine what could have been in the first act of “The Great Gatsby.” Shawano Community High School is bringing the stage adaptation of the novel set in the 1920s to life next week.

“The Great Gatsby,” as a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, did not initially receive rave reviews when it was published in 1925, and the author thought the book had been a failure.

However, the book has become one of the more popular pieces of literature in America today following a revival of the book in the 1940s — after Fitzgerald passed — and the stage version of the story about 1920s culture in New York will hit the stage at Shawano Community High School next week.

The show’s director, Maddie Stuewer, recalled reading the book during her high school years, and once she read the script, she knew it would be ideal for local students to present to the community.

“I was like, ‘Oh, this would be so much fun to do on stage,’” Stuewer said. “I love the story, and I love the costumes, the music — just all of it.”

The book, and the show, are narrated by a young man named Nick Carraway, who has just moved into a house next door to Jay Gatsby, a man known for throwing lavish parties in the fictional village of West Egg. Carraway is eventually invited to one of the parties and soon realizes there is more to his neighbor’s past than meets the eye.

Gatsby served in World War I and had fallen in love with a debutante named Daisy, but she had eventually married another man, Tom Buchanan. However, Buchanan is not very kind to Daisy and is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, who married a garage owner and mechanic.

Gatsby asks Carraway, who is Daisy’s cousin, to arrange a meeting between himself and the lonely wife of Buchanan in the hopes of rekindling the flame that burned before he had to go to war. As it turns out, the parties that Gatsby throws had all been done with the hopes that Daisy might attend, but when the familial connection is discovered, Gatsby decides to capitalize on it.

The show continues on to present the seduction, glamor and ultimately tragedy of the Roaring Twenties lifestyle.

“All kinds of drama ensues,” Stuewer said. “(Gatsby) doesn’t do things in a simple way.”

Stuewer had a number of students who hadn’t performed in previous SCHS productions audition for “The Great Gatsby.” Among them was C.J. Henning, who plays Gatsby himself.

“I wasn’t expecting at first to get the role,” Henning said. “I was just auditioning because I wanted to try out acting. It’s really fun to be in one of the big roles, especially for my first time acting.”

Henning’s high school years have been highlighted mostly by sports, but he helped with the tech work for “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time” last fall and then served as stage manager for “The Little Mermaid” in January. Working behind the scenes inspired him to step out on the stage in an acting capacity.

Henning watched the latest film adaptation of the book, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and read the novel a number of times to get some insight to his character.

“He’s rather obsessive,” Henning said about the character he plays. “He kind of pines after Daisy. He works her up so much in his mind after he’s left for the war and has this huge idea of her, and when he meets her, she just doesn’t reach (expectations), but he’s still so happy she’s here. It’s quite fun to figure all that out.”

Henning said the challenge for him is understanding the meaning of some of the lines, as the way people spoke in the 1920s is worlds away from today’s speech.

Henning still plans to keep some sports in his life as he goes into his senior year next year, but the acting bug has definitely left its mark on him.

“I’m definitely going to try out for the fall play,” Henning said. “I’m thinking of trying out for the musical, as well. I’ve enjoyed this so much, what I’m doing.”

The play is expected to be about as much a showstopper as the high school’s musicals, with Stuewer implementing moments where the actors are dancing and having a live band perform at the “party.”

“I feel like this is a good show to bring people together, teamwork-wise,” Stuewer said, noting that the main set for Gatsby’s home was built by the students in the cast and crew in just two days. “I think a big show like this really forces people to step up into roles they might not have stepped into.”

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: “The Great Gatsby”

WHEN: 7 p.m. April 4-5, 2 p.m. April 6

WHERE: Auditorium, Shawano Community High School, 220 County Road B, Shawano

TICKETS: $5 adults, $3 students.