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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Daddy Long Legs
With a book and direction by Caird and music and lyrics by his frequent composing partner, Paul Gordon, Daddy long Legs is a sweet sounding chamber piece, a love story and wish fulfillment opus that throws in strategic dashes of female empowerment to try to keep things interesting. In ever hopeful and dewy eyed Megan McGinnis, Caird and Gordon have found an ideal actress to buffer this rather simple tale.
It's modest in both telling and in staging. David Farley's single level set splits a bookshelf lined study with an open space populated mostly by all purpose trunks. When a character needs to go to a farm, she opens up the shades for light. A far cry, this, from big Broadway spectacle.
I've said that Caird and Gordon are the team behind Jane Eyre. Well, Daddy Long Legs essentially is Charlotte Bronte's story updated to early 20th century New York and laced with Dickens's Great Expectations.
Adapted from the 1912 novel by Jean Webster, the story finds a lonely 18 year old orphan named Jerusha with no discernible prospects plucked from her orphanage by a mysterious nameless benefactor who sends her to college, gives her an allowance and dictates that she is to become a writer. To that purpose, she is to pen him two letters a month to chart her progress, not to thank him.
The scuttlebutt on this "John Smith" is that he is elderly and usually chooses boys to receive his munificence. Jerusha calls him Mr. Girl Hater and dubs him Daddy Long Legs. And she is very grateful.
In reality, Daddy Long Legs is Jervis Pendleton, a young man working out his guilt over being born to privilege. So taken is he by Jerusha's letters that Jervis eventually contrives to meet her (not difficult since his niece is one of her roommates). The besottedness is mutual, but Jervis can't bring himself to reveal himself. Jerusha, meanwhile, pours out her heart to her still anonymous benefactor, but begins to chafe at some of his instructions: spend your summer here not there. Take this trip, etc.
With the opening of Jerusha's mind comes her need for independence. She moves through college, considers socialism and the suffrage movement, and continues to write. She's also conscious of her mean origins and she's desperately lonely.
Possessed of a lovely high alto voice (the musical is almost entirely sung through) and a thatch of underdog curly brown hair, McGinnis charms the britches off not just her Daddy Long Legs but anyone within earshot. The actress's winsomeness is never cloying; nothing about the performance is cute or an overt troll for sympathy. Despite the characters many obvious attributes, the creators have smartly made her imperfect: she flunks a couple of courses, screws up some farm duties and amasses a ton of rejection letters.
This may be a two actor show, but Jerusha and Jervis don't interact directly until late. Which means that McGinnis seems frequently to be picking out someone in the audience to hear her Daddy Long Legs correspondence. The Rubicon is a small house and fortunate indeed are those who are on the receiving end of our heroine's words.
Saddled with the easier role, Robert Adelman Hancock is certainly handsome enough with enough unexciting charisma to make Jervis/Daddy seem like a catch. Caird and Gordon spend a lot of time reaching their inevitable conclusion and Hancock doesn't do angst with great skill. A player with a keener edge (Jane Eyre's James Barbour, perhaps?) might have been a more exciting choice. Notwithstanding, Daddy Long Legs has plenty of catchy music (nicely conducted by Laura Berquist), an easily digestible plot and a quite wonderful leading lady. As any Cinderella will tell you, there's always room for a fairy tale.