In 1912, a novel by the name of Daddy-Long-Legs became popular among young readers. And, now, over 100 years later and adapted into a stage musical by Paul Gordon, it’s still easy to see why. The two main characters, a young girl named Jerusha Abbot and a slightly older man named Jervis are so delightfully and endearingly written, as is their sweet story, that it’s impossible not to fall in love with them.
And “falling in love” is exactly what one does at Theatre Raleigh’s production of this fanciful musical. Directed by Megan McGinnis, who just happened to originate the role of Jerusha, and starring two strong leads, this lovely tale plays out on a beautiful wood-paneled set designed by Chris Bernier.
This set, lit by rustic lanterns and filled with books, functions as the orphanage where Jerusha (Hilary Maiberger), when the audience first meets her, serves as “the oldest orphan in the John Grier home.” Later, when a mysterious benefactor- none other than Jervis (Max Chernin) himself- chooses to pay discreetly for Jerusha’s college education in exchange for monthly letters from the young girl, it doubles both as Jerusha’s school and Jervis’ study.
Having only one backdrop may seem an odd choice, but here, in the intimate space of the Kennedy Theatre, it works quite well. It’s a simple, effective choice that keeps the focus on this show, its beautiful music, and its strong characters throughout.
In fact, the simplicity of the production is its strongest feature. While today’s audiences are used to overpowering dance numbers with dozens of actors belting out complicated songs, this story and this production are simple, clean, and unfettered. It is not until one sees a show like this one- one where every note runs clear- and where story and written word are the main focus that one realizes just how refreshing such a production is.
Speaking of refreshing, this sweet, lightly funny script fits that description well. As Jerusha writes to Jervis, who has a growing fondness for her, she imagines him as much older and knows him only as “Daddy-Long-Legs.” Jervis eventually does introduce himself to her…as a friend’s uncle…and without letting her know that he is her shrouded benefactor. In this regard, the story is a bit like an old-fashioned “Catfish” without the ill intent, though it plays out more like a fairy tale.
The script and the story are brought fully to life by the clear, catchy music and the beautiful voices and portrayals of the actors. Bright-eyed Maiberger’s sweet, strong voice, as well as the energy and spunk with which she plays Jerusha make her perfectly cast. Also well-cast is Chernin, who gives his character just the right amount of awkwardness to make him real. Chernin also does a particularly good job with the script’s funnier moments and isn’t afraid to get physical to make a point. Watching him slam down his typewriter or visibly sizzle with jealousy provides some of the production’s funniest moments. It also doesn’t hurt that the two actors share an easy, natural chemistry.
The story moves quickly, gliding from one song to the next, all the way to the tense but rewarding ending. Standout songs include “The Secret of Happiness” and “Like Other Girls,” which effectively turns Jerusha into one of the most real and relatable characters imaginable. It also has to be noted that, while some have criticized the novel as “anti-feminist,” the musical is anything but. Jerusha shines through here as a strong, empowered woman. In fact, she’s rather inspiring throughout. She’s also very well-dressed thanks to lovely costumes by Sheila Cox. And, honestly, what more could one want in a heroine than to be both inspiring and fashionable?
Viewers looking for a female role model or anyone who longs to get lost in a love story will find exactly what they’re looking for here, as will just about anyone.
Theatre Raleigh presents DADDY LONG LEGS at 2 and 8 p.m. May 19, 3 p.m. May 20, 8 p.m. May 23-25, 2 and 8 p.m. May 26, and 3 p.m. May 27 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theatre in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
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Daddy-Long-Legs (1912 epistolary novel): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daddy-Long-Legs_(novel) (Wikipedia).
The Novel: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Jean Webster (Fredonia, NY-born novelist, nee Alice Jane Chandler Webster, 1876-1916): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Webster (Wikipedia).
Daddy Long Legs (2012 West End and 2015 Off-Broadway musical): http://www.daddylonglegsmusical.com/ (official website), https://www.mtishows.com/daddy-long-legs (Music Theatre International), https://paul-gordon-gleh.squarespace.com/daddy-long-legs (Paul Gordon’s web page), http://www.johncaird.com/musicals.html (John Caird’s web page), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/6036 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daddy_Long_Legs_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://www.skylightmusictheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/DADDY-LONG-LEGS-Audience-Guide.pdf (Skylight Music Theatre of Milwaukee, WI).
Paul Gordon (music and lyrics): http://www.paulgordonmusic.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/46342 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/paul-gordon-75533 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0330509/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Gordon_(composer) (Wikipedia).
John Caird (book): http://www.johncaird.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/7309 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/john-caird-14350 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0129035/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Caird_(director) (Wikipedia).
Megan McGinnis (New York, NY director): http://meganmcginnis.net/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/46340 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/megan-mcginnis-69621 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0569366/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megan_McGinnis (Wikipedia).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.triangleartsreview.com/, http://www.susiepotter.com, and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.