Review: Clever and Enchanting New Chamber Musical, DADDY LONG LEGS

Crisp as the autumn air and warming as a snifter of brandy, Paul Gordon (score) and John Caird's (book/direction) enchanting new musical of hesitant romance based on Jean Webster's 1912 novel, Daddy Long Legs provides a perfectly charming night out for the literary set, or anyone else who appreciates clever and prettily composed chamber musicals.

Paul Alexander Nolan and Megan McGinnis
(Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

As "the oldest orphan in the John Grier home," located somewhere in New England, 18-year-old Jerusha Abbott has received as much education as a young woman in her situation could expect and now resides at the orphanage assisting with housekeeping chores.

But her hum-drum life changes when she learns that a mysterious benefactor, impressed with the original and amusing essays she writes, has decided to pay for her college education and living expenses while she studies to be a writer. She only gets a shadowy glimpse of him from afar as he leaves, but his written instructions say he desires no thanks, but only that she write to him regularly with details of her daily life and how her studies are progressing. She can refer to him as Mr. John Smith, but he warns that he will never answer the letters nor even read them. They are a writing exercise.

From then on the musical consists primarily of four years' worth of letters, sung by Jerusha as she writes them, sung by the benefactor as he reads them (apparently he couldn't resist) and sung by both of them as he becomes enraptured with the woman she's becoming and she becomes fascinated with the man she imagines him to be.

Assuming her patron to be an elderly gentleman, she nicknames him Daddy Long Legs, but in actuality he's not much older than she. Socially awkward and romantically inexperienced, Jervis Pendleton struggles with the temptation to reveal his identity to Jerusha, especially when she starts writing of a boy who's been receiving her attention. But when he discovers that one of her housemates is a relative of his, he takes the opportunity to start regularly seeing the young woman as himself, not taking into consideration that Daddy Long Legs will soon be receiving letters about her feelings developing for Jervis.

Paul Alexander Nolan and Megan McGinnis
(Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

A three piece ensemble of keyboard, guitar and cello, led by orchestrator Brad Haak plays an exquisitely gentle score that intertwines musical themes as the two characters' hearts begin to intertwine and grows with complexity with their emotional growth. The smart and humorous lyrics contain pure rhyming.

Megan McGinnis sings with marvelous vitality and presents a thorough picture of Jerusha's growth from a spunky young women who lacks the education to achieve her full potential to a confident and progressive lady who argues common sense in favor of women's voting rights and dedicates herself to improving the lives of the less fortunate.

Paul Alexander Nolan is perfectly matched with his passionate vocals and funny portrayal of a well-meaning fellow falling in love with a woman's mind as he clumsily tries to dig out of the mess he's created. Designer David Farley's handsome two-level set keeps them separated for most of the proceedings, but Caird's spirited staging and the delightful performances of the two stars keep the chemistry between them thick.

DADDY LONG LEGS is an absolute charmer that's perfect for date night and also suitable for the whole family.


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