Adapted and directed by John Caird
Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon
Musical direction by Laura Bergquist
Daddy Long Legs weaves web of romance.
If this review were limited to just one word, that word would be charming! Daddy Long Legs is so brimming with charm that it doesn’t matter that there are no memorable songs, that the voices are not outstanding, and that the plot is sentimental – so let’s get these caveats out the way immediately.
What transcends them all is the delicious performances by the cast of two: sprightly Megan McGinnis as orphan Jerusha Abbott and handsome Robert Adelman Hancock as her benefactor Jervis Pendleton. Just to see the play of emotions – the varied facial expressions evinced by McGinnis — is worth the price of admission. If McGinnis is winsome and charismatic, Hancock is the perfect foil playing a rather stiff bachelor who has taken on far more than he expected. The two skillfully complement each other — a most appealing couple.
This particular Cinderella story has been around for years, initially as an epistolary novel written by Jean Webster in 1912, on the stage in 1915, in at least three film adaptations – 1919, 1931, and in 1955 (starring Mary Pickford, Shirley Temple and Fred Astaire). Now, Northlight presents John Caird’s new adaptation, which, while staying true to the original plotline, creates an entirely different effect as a chamber musical.
The plot is direct and uncomplicated: wealthy Jervis (aka Daddy Long Legs) decides to further the education and future of bright Jerusha, the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home where he is a member of the board of directors. He will fund her university and personal expenses, but on two conditions: she must never try to discover his identity and she must write him monthly letters on her progress that he will never answer. Her spontaneity and joy are contagious as she sets out on this educational adventure and the result is a stimulating, one-sided correspondence which initially amuses his intellect, and ultimately captures his heart.
In our age of telephones, cell phones, texting, and Skype, it is wonderfully nostalgic to return a world where letters are a works of art – witty, poignant, ever exploring and revealing the thoughts of their creators. And these letters are consistently interesting, not only revealing a bright, lively mind reacting to all that she is learning, but steeped in the gossip and concerns of a young girl coming of age. Dialogue nested in pleasant lyrics enhances the action.
Jerusha composes letters, which Jervis, sitting at his desk amid his library bookshelves, opens and reads. Their voices alternate, or harmonize, as each letter is read/sung (14 songs in the first act, 10 in the second). In one delightful recap, an early letter from Jerusha bemoans the fact that she just doesn’t fit into the college world. She is not “like other girls.” Later, Jervis returns to the same idea, but the disparity has become an asset – she is so much above the common that he is delighted that she is not like other girls.
Of course, there are complications, and of course, there is the expected resolution, but along the way it is impossible not to be pleased and charmed by the “easy-listening” music, the personal appeal of the characters and the upbeat, fairy-tale quality of the story. No point struggling, just relax and enjoy Daddy Long Legs’ web.
For full show information, check out the Daddy Long Legs page at TheatreInChicago.
At Northlight Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, 847-673-6300, www.northlight.org. Tickets are $35-$55 (young adult tickets — 25 and under — are $10), runs Tuesdays through Thursdays 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays 1 p.m. Fridays 8 p.m., Saturdays 2:30 and 8 p.m., Sundays 2:30 and 7 p.m., through Oct. 24.