A Penn student has drawn upon inspiration from her writing seminar to craft an entire musical adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby."
College senior Danielle Moore wrote the musical this past summer and will stage the show on campus next semester. She is earning credit for the project as an independent study, and she received a $500 grant from the Office of the Provost to fund the production.
David Fox, a Theatre Arts and English lecturer as well as Moore’s advisor for her independent study, said that though he has seen many students write plays, Moore's piece is the first fully-developed musical that he has seen from a student.
The College senior said she got the idea for the musical from a Gatsby-themed writing seminar she took her freshman year. While conducting research for the course, Moore discovered that the book was adapted as an opera in the 1980s, and that a Gatsby musical was written in the late 1960s but never produced.
She said she felt strongly that a Gatsby musical with jazz music should exist and started writing songs that semester.
“In between writing these crazy outlines for writing seminar, I would be scribbling down lyrics and recording things into my phone,” Moore said.
Though she wrote some music during her freshman year, Moore shelved the project until her junior year when she joined Penn Singers and began participating in theater again — an activity she had not participated in since high school.
The musical features original songs, with the only exceptions being a theme and parts of a melody written by a University of Michigan theater student whom she met by chance at a party last semester. Moore was adamant about being as faithful to Fitzgerald’s text as possible. Though she made up many song lyrics, they are similar to the text, and there are only about five lines of spoken dialogue not taken directly from the book.
Moore said she feels that though Penn is typically known for its pre-professional atmosphere, there are many opportunities to receive funding from Penn for creative projects if you look for them.
“Sometimes you have to go looking for opportunities that don’t quite fit and ask if they can make an exception for you,” she said, adding that getting grants can be about “knowing your audience” and framing the project to fit a specific grant.
Moore staged a first read-through of the musical early in the semester and is currently recording demos for the musical with help from other Penn students, including College senior and member of Penn Singers Mikey Miller.
“[Moore] is so talented, and honestly the music is so beautiful, and she’s really putting her heart and soul into the project,” Miller said. He also highlighted the collaborative aspects of the project, including the way Moore changes certain notes or elements of the song to fit the needs of her actors. He said he enjoys being able to shape the project in this “indirect way.”
Moore also said she feels there is something special about being a part of something new.
“My hope is that it can be an experience for students who are interested in having that experience, whether it’s in an acting capacity, or a producing capacity,” she said.