Review by Tulis McCall
7 December 2015
I don’t think I have ever said this before about an Off Broadway production – “Daddy Long Legs” is chomping at the bit to have the training wheels removed so it can take off for a big adventure. Yeah, yeah, I know. Productions take a ton o’ time and money. That’s what producers are for! These producers are already thinking out of the box because they are planning a Livestream of this show on December 10 – a first for Off-Broadway. Fingers crossed.
And this show would be a charmer in a larger house with an actual cast to support our heroine and hero. Not that Megan McGinnis (Jerusha) and Adam Halpin (Jervis) are anything less than splendid. It’s just that these characters (and actors) deserve the time to blossom while physically surrounded by the other characters in their story – and without the burden of changing clothes and moving set pieces (steamer trunks) for a good portion of their time on stage.
Based on a 1912 novel of the same name by Jean Webster, this is another rags to riches, kind man helping out unfortunate young woman and then falling in love with her because, well, who wouldn’t? This is the first stage production, but there have been several films of this story. The most recent with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron a mere 60 years ago. Anyway, you get the picture. The story is nothing new.
It is the turn of the century and Jerusha Abbott is the oldest orphan in the miserable John Grier Home. On the day in question she has been offered a scholarship to attend c-o-l-l-e-g-e by one of the trustees. She happened to see him leaving the building with the light behind him and could only tell he was tall and long-legged. (Mr. Halprin is neither) - Thus she nicknames him “Daddy Long Legs”. Her directions are to write him of her progress on a regular basis and to never EVER expect a reply. This she does, and of course her observations are charming as all get out:
Why couldn’t you have picked out a name with a little personality? I might as well write letters to ‘Dear Hitching-Post’ or… Dear Clothes-Pole’.
And ka-boom, DLL falls for her. DLL, however, is not some old, white haired or balding gent. He is a young man of means (how and why we never learn) who took an interest in Jerusha (how and why we also never learn). In addition, he is the brother of one of Jerusha’s soon-to-be school mates, Julia Pendleton, to whom Jerusha takes an instant dislike because Julia believes she is only one or two steps below the Almighty and everyone else is pretty much lost. As his interest grows, Pendleton contrives ways to visit his sister and spend time with Jerusha as well. Soon both are smitten, but there are other possible suitors. As well, there is the problem of revealing oneself as a benefactor and impostor all at the same time.
Everything works out in the end, of course. The band of three (Brad Haack – arranger, conductor and keyboards; Craig Magnano – Guitars, and Jeanette Stenson – Cello) make an orchestra out of their blended sound from up in the eaves of the set. John Caird has done well to micro manage the blocking, but it still looks cramped – because it is. As it stands, the book here is over written and slightly repetitive. And personally, the constant referral to “Daddy” in Jerusha’s letters is unsettling. What I wouldn’t give for a couple of sub-plots to thicken the plot. The music itself has great variety, from tender ballads to songs of determination that border on being spirituals. At times these performers make the entire caboodle transcendent. We just don’t need ALL of it.
Like I said, this one is waiting to bust its seams. And in case you doubt me, you can see a breakthrough event because the performance of Daddy Long Legs will be Live Streamed on December 10th. Definitely worth a viewing.
"A sweet, beautifully sung and only occasionally unsettling musical adaptation of Jean Webster’s 1912 novel."
Alexis Soloski for New York Times
"It's engaging enough in the first act, but by the second half, the will-they-or-won't-they tension gets buried under too many reprises and a syrupy pace and tone. Save for diehard romantics, this may be one musical audiences will want to write off."
Raven Snook for Time Out New York
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