In today’s world of tawdry celebrity meltdowns, revisiting Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s crash-and-burn has an understandable allure. We look to their tale not only for its style and glamour, but also for lessons to be learned. Alas, jazz-age flair is barely in evidence in the new musical This Side of Paradise. Further, the cliché-ridden book from Will Pomerantz and Nancy Harrow, and the latter’s jazz songs—with their teasingly intricate melodies but awkwardly constructed lyrics—provide no new insight into the Fitzgeralds’ self-destructive psyches.
The seven-performer piece unfolds in a flashback, as middle-aged Zelda remembers her heyday with her golden-boy husband. The familiar biographical details are here—his early success to her first snaps with reality—but the writers seem to be working from a checklist. Similarly, the couple’s famed friends appear (Ernest Hemingway, Maxwell Perkins, etc.), but only in two-dimensional renderings. The production, which Pomerantz also directed, does occasionally spark to life, thanks primarily to Maureen Mueller’s smoky-voiced, pitiably deadened turn as the elder Zelda. Her work, however, never elevates this sadly shallow recounting of squandered potential in a fabled, bygone era.