Note: Adam Halpin joined the cast in the role of Jervis Pendleton as of November 20th.
The Off-Broadway musical, Daddy Long Legs, is a sweet and enchanting two-person production. The show, based on the 1912 book by Jean Webster, centers on Jerusha Abbott (Megan McGinnis), an 18 year old resident of the John Grier orphanage. One day she is told an anonymous benefactor wants to send her to college. As part of the agreement Jerusha is told she must write regularly about her life and schooling and that she will never know the person’s identity. What follows is a series of letters, read aloud, between the two that continues through four year of college and summer vacations in the countryside. During the years, the young woman wonders, in her correspondence, what the man she has nicknamed Daddy Long Legs, looks like. What does he do? The audience soon discovers the mysterious philanthropist, Jervis Pendleton (Will Reynolds), is a gentleman not that much older then the co-ed. While, at first, just wanting to do some good Jervis soon becomes bewitched by the maturing Jerusha. As the production ambles towards its inevitable conclusion we slowly fall under its charming spell.
Megan McGinnis is captivating as Jerusha Abbott. She is buoyant, winsome and delightful. Her character is more well-rounded and, as the musical progresses, shows a gradual, but steady maturation. Will Reynolds is splendid as Jervis Pendleton. However, the role is more one-dimensional and he doesn’t have much opportunity to stretch his acting range.
The score by Paul Gordon is melodic and tuneful, but by the end of the show the songs have begun to have a similar sound. This has more to do with the small band of three instruments, which doesn’t allow for that much differentiation in the orchestrations.
As librettist John Caird has taken the essence of the Jean Webster novel and successfully created a tale of a young woman who undergoes personal growth and independence at the turn of the 20th century. While watching the musical I wondered how millennials and individuals rooted in the culture of 140 characters would react to a musical, which greatly revolves around having witty, descriptive and emotion-laden letters read aloud. Would it generate a rebirth of the written word?
Doing double duty as director Caird, a Tony Award winner for helming such large scale productions as Nicholas Nickleby and the original Les Miserables, skillfully guides the chamber size musical through its meandering paces. He smartly keeps the focus on Jerusha Abbott, having her front and center through most of the production. The director is less successful in fully incorporating the character of Jervis Pendleton into the production. Very often he is mere window dressing, seated behind his ornate desk in the shadows. Caird playfully works within Scenic Designer David Farley’s trunk strewn stage, fashioning places, objects and memories from the multiple chests.
Daddy Long Legs, an appealing and charismatic musical, playing at the Davenport Theatre.