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Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents DADDY LONG LEGS

Running through July 18th at The Phoenix Theatre Company’s Hormel Theatre, the production features Kathlynn Rodin and James D. Gish.

Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents DADDY LONG LEGS Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents DADDY LONG LEGS Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents DADDY LONG LEGS

With recollections of Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron dancing in my mind, I must confess that I was more than pleasantly surprised by The Phoenix Theatre Company's production of DADDY LONG LEGS (which opened on June 23rd and runs through July 18th). So much so that I am compelled to instruct all comers to cast aside images of the 1955 Hollywood musical in favor of the uplifting book by John Caird that is truer to its source than the film.

Following a pattern of adaptations for which he has become celebrated (most notably Les Misérables, Nicholas Nickleby, and Peter Pan), Caird, an honorary associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, revisited Jean Webster's 1912 novel about an orphan girl and her anonymous benefactor.

Complemented with the evocative music and lyrics of Tony nominee Paul Gordon, the result (which premiered in 2009) is a story that elevates the spirits and ultimately pulls at the heart strings. Now, in the hands of director Robert Kolby Harper, it is sure to be one of the Season's most memorable and beloved hits.

This must be so because of the thoroughly charming performances of its two leads. Kathlynn Rodin and James D. Gish radiate with equal parts of charisma and vitality in a story that brims with idealism, optimism, and romance. Their rich and melodious voices alternate in harmony as Jerusha's letters are written and read.

Rodin is enchanting and embraceable as the spirited and inquisitive romantic; Gish, captivating and endearing as the awkward and vulnerable bachelor virtually intoxicated by Jerusha's infectious energy. (Special shoutout: Gish's powerful and emotional rendition of the song Charity is breathtaking.)

The arc turns on the four years of a one-way correspondence between orphan-become-collegian Jerusha Abbott (Rodin) and the man who has chosen her out of all the orphans at the John Grier Home to be the beneficiary of his scholarship...and whom she has chosen to call Daddy Long Legs.

Jerusha springs into enlightenment, relishing texts that open wide the portals of the arts and humanities, the natural sciences and mathematics. Faithful to the only condition of her patron's generous grant, she records in letter after letter the details of her discoveries. (He has advised her that he will never respond in kind.) As time moves on, she becomes increasingly curious about the Mr. Smith to whom she writes.

Mr. Smith is actually Jervis Pendleton (Gish), the scion of a wealthy New York family, who, intrigued by the intellect, spirit, and wit contained in Jerusha's letters, arrives on campus and introduces himself as the uncle of one of her classmates, all the better to observe her without revealing his true identity.

It is the allowance that we give fiction that the inevitable attraction between the unwitting Jerusha and the poseur can be deemed credible. The complications that arise from this flowering relationship and Jervis's efforts to conceal his true identity will, of course, be resolved to the relief of all. It's in getting to that moment of reveal that the pleasure of the show reaches its apex.

There are elements of this show that require special mention because, in all respects, this DADDY LONG LEGS epitomizes the definition of a complete production: The range of artistry and variety in Connie Furr's exquisite designs for Jerusha's wardrobe. Aaron Jackson's handsome set, separating Jerusha's modest quarters from Jervis's richly appointed mahogany office. The cleverly positioned tree that hovers above Jervis's abode, its branches bearing letters rather than leaves. The giant tableau of parchment, center stage, on which the partial lines of Jerusha's letters are etched and colorful splashes of the surrounding environs are projected. All together, seamless and inspired.

DADDY LONG LEGS! What a refreshing and uplifting way ~ necessarily so after too long an absence from live theatre ~ to launch a new season with a story that mines the rare gems of what it means to be wonderful.

DADDY LONG LEGS runs through July 18th at The Phoenix Theatre Company's Hormel Theatre.

Additional credits

Randi Ellen Rudolph ~ Musical Director, Piano

Stephan McLaughlin ~ Props Coordinator
Josh Lutton ~ Wig Designer
Ashton Michael Corey ~ Lighting Designer
Ryan Peavey ~ Sound Designer
Dallas Nichols ~ Video Designer
Karla Frederick ~ Director of Production

Photo credit to Reg Madison Photography

The Phoenix Theatre Company ~ ~ 1825 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ ~ Box office: 602-254-2151

From This Author - Herbert Paine

Herb Paine ~ Herb has served as Senior Contributing Editor and lead reviewer for BWW's Phoenix Metro Region since 2014. He has been acclaimed as BEST THEATRE CRITIC by PHOENIX magazin... (read more about this author)

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