By: Sandi Durell
There’s a feel-good two character musical currently at the Davenport Theatre that does a really fine job of transporting its audience to a gentler time and place. It’s a fairytale of kindness and spirit that ends as a sweet love story. Based on the 1911 novel written by Jean Webster, also a 1955 movie starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron, the book and direction are by John Caird (Tony winning director) with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon (Tony nominee).
Jerusha Abbott (Megan McGinnis) residing at the John Grier Home, is their oldest orphan, her first name taken from a gravestone, her last . . . well “A” is the first letter in the phone book. But, somehow, she hasn’t been affected by her misfortune; instead Jerusha is a feisty, fearless, plucky, bright and enthusiastic young lady who has attracted the attention of one of the trustees who wishes to pay her tuition at college to further her already admired writing skills. The caveat, however, is that he won’t reveal himself, other than as “John Smith” and she must write him once a month but never expecting a reply. Aside from seeing a shadow of the man at the home, she has no idea who he is but, recalling a lanky presence, she dubs him Daddy Long Legs.
Her imagination takes hold and she decides he must be bald and at least in his 80s when, in fact, he is the rather young and wealthy benefactor, Jervis Pendleton (Paul Alexander Nolan). Jerusha narrates through her letters (melodic songs that are a mixture of light folk-rock and poignant ballads), telling the story of her growing adventures and friendships at college, giving rise to her intelligence and womanly stirrings, as she and Jervis add a fascinating dimension singing in tandem, becoming more emotionally charged and attracted to one another. Jervis tries, on several occasions, to tell her the truth, but his awkwardness gets the better of him until, eventually, he must own up.
“What Does She Mean by Love? (Nolan) and “The Secret of Happiness” (McGinnis), are just two examples of some of the telling compositions. McGinnis has a pure, lovely flowing soprano and is delightfully charming as Jerusha, while Nolan’s gentle yet firm tenor is beautifully matched, making for exquisite harmonic duets. Both have played major Broadway roles.
The small stage setting allows for the actors to place themselves in separate areas – the dark library of bookshelves where Jervis spends most of his time, to a lower level of trunks to accommodate Jerusha at school. The costumes are period perfect early 1900s (sets and costumes by David Farley).
All in all, Daddy Long Legs is a satisfying change of pace reminding us of times when theater didn’t have to tax the brain or push the envelope.
Daddy Long Legs – open run. Two hours (intermission)
Davenport Theatre, 354 West 45 St. NYC Tickets: 212 239-6222
Photo: Jeremy Daniel