Daddy Long Legs, Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon, Book by John Caird, Based on the novel by Jean Webster, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 2/9/12-3/4/12
Reviewed by Anthony Geehan
(Lowell, MA) The concept of love at first sight is something that has been around in theater and literature since the times of ancient mythology. There is another and more complicated hook for a love story however, in which two people fall in love without ever seeing each other. Such pieces as Mask, Sleepless in Seattle, and Parfumerie have taken on the concept that love can spark purely on personality and intrigue without any physical attributes taken into account. So it is with the musical Daddy Long Legs, a new performance being hosted by The Merrimack Repertory Theatre based off the book by John Caird.
Daddy Long Legs tells the story of Jerusha Abbott (Megan McGinnis), a young girl who is introduced as the “The oldest orphan in the John Greer Home”, a position that lands her the responsibility of caring for many of the children with little to no hope of her becoming adopted herself. One day, she receives a strange letter from an anonymous man who only refers to himself as “Mr.Smith”, who offers to fully pay for her college education in order to develop her into a successful writer. The stipulations for his funding are that Jerusha must write a letter to him once a month in order to keep him updated on her progress and that she will never hear back from him or meet him in anyway. Mr. Smith turns out to be a young and love scorned member of a prominent New York family named Jervis Pendleton (Robert Hancock), whose socialist tendencies have made him an outcast in his circles. Jerusha writes Jervis once a month as promised, keeping him updated on her day-to-day life and studies. Through these letters Jervis becomes infatuated with Jerusha, but swears to keep his identity secret from her as his original proposition stated. The story becomes a two way street of longing and mystery told through Jerusha’s letters to her “ Daddy Long Legs” as she attempts to coax her mysterious benefactor out of hiding while Jervis attempts to resist the temptation to do so.
Daddy Long Legs is a musical that sustains a very straight and medium flow throughout. McGinnis and Hancock are the only two actors in the play and they stay in one set piece the entire time with minimal props and costume changes. The songs are well arranged and are there to move the story along more so then to be showstoppers. A minimalist orchestra led by Laura Bergquist plays the songs live with surprising accuracy for how quickly the dialogue transitions into music at times. Both McGinnis and Hancock are both proficient actors and singers, though there are no real scenes of virtuosity in either. The true strength of the production is in it’s pacing, which gives the play a unique humor and charm. McGinnis and Hancock handle the two-person act extremely well with some fantastic chemistry, spending much of their time on stage finishing each other’s sentences and working off each other’s lines.
The stage pieces of Daddy Long Legs work in sections, though the main framing never changes. Pendelton’s office acts as the background for Hancock to spend most of his stage time in while McGinnis occupies the front of the stage with miscellaneous trunks and suitcases. These are used at first to signify her leaving the orphanage, but double as set pieces to represent dormitories, mountains, and graduation pedestals for different parts of Jerusha’s life. The staging also opens to reveal windows with different lighting and color tone throughout the play in order to represent the changing of the seasons.
While the music of the play is very well executed and suiting to the story, it can also be looked at as slightly arbitrary, with the songs being used mainly to stretch the length of the play rather than add to it. Many of the songs are refrained several times as well and this tends to wear near the finale. But McGinnis and Hancock are fantastic on stage together and their charm, humor, and pacing makes the play an enjoyable experience. Fans of out of left field couple stories such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady would be well off attending.