Daddy Long Legs: Theater review by Raven Snook
Jean Webster's quaint 1912 epistolary novel chronicling the relationship between a plucky, nubile orphan and the anonymous benefactor who sends her to college seems like curious source material for a musical. The two main characters rarely interact, as most of the drama takes place inside their own heads. And yet this is the fourth musicalization of the story in English (apparently there was also a Japanese anime TV tuner!), so clearly, this Cinderella-style story has some serious Legs.
Unlike its best known adaptation—the 1955 MGM musical starring Leslie Caron and Fred Astaire, which strayed far from Webster's book—songwriter Paul Gordon and book author-director John Caird hew much closer to her original text, sometimes lifting entire paragraphs. But though the show is set a century ago, the score is unabashedly contemporary, a pop pastiche that recalls Sondheim, Once, lite-FM regulars like the Goo Goo Dolls and even quotes the opening strains of "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Gordon and Caird previously collaborated on an equally sincere musical based on another literary romance, Broadway's short-lived Jane Eyre. But this two-hander is smaller and more satisfying, thanks to a lighter tone and two supremely talented up-and-comers as the stamp-crossed couple: Paul Alexander Nolan and Megan McGinnis, who's been with the production since it debuted at California's Rubicon Theatre Company in 2009. As Jerusha, who dubs her fairy godfather "Daddy Long Legs" in her letters, McGinnis is wide-eyed and sparkling, her clear soprano investing the pedestrian lyrics with an emotional depth they usually lack. Though Nolan is new to the show, he's at home as her mysterious sponsor, Jervis, a rich young man with socialist ideals who's so intrigued by her prose, he devises a ruse to meet her without revealing his identity. It's the trickier part—Jervis's motivations don't always compute, and his deceptive and controlling nature borders on abusive. But Nolan's charisma, good looks and powerful tenor gloss over his character's failings.
Though they're often onstage together, the would-be lovers are usually divided, singing out their innermost desires to the audience from separate planes (David Farley's handsome, book-filled set nicely delineates their disparate worlds). 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.
Davenport Theatre (Off Broadway). Music and lyrics by Paul Gordon. Book by John Caird. Directed by Caird. With Megan McGinnis, Paul Alexander Nolan. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.
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Its delightful, its delovely, it’s the LYRICS
In an adaptation of Jean Webster’s love story, “Daddy Longlegs” Paul Gordon and John Caird have brilliantly brought love to the Davenport Theatre.
The casting is absolutely perfect, the set and lighting are excellent, the music is suburb, but it is the lyrics that amaze. The story is told in the form of letters between Jerusha, perfectly interpreted by Megan McGinnis, and Paul Alexander Nolan’s excellent Jervis.
The time is the very early 1900’s and Jerusha, an orphan, is selected by Jervis, a trustee at her orphanage, to attend college. One of the conditions of her selection is that she write Jervis a monthly letter telling of her progress.
The letters, told in lyrical form and sung by Ms McGinnis and Mr. Nolan are the heart of the story. The growth of Jerusha and the unbending of the remote Jervis are brought to the audience through these lyrics.
The letters cover the four year period of Jerusha’s college tenure and brilliantly bring the story to life.
The staging is inventive, the theater intimate, all of which totally charm the viewer. This musical deserves a sold out house every night. Go see it, it’s letters, it’s lyrics, it’s love.