Coming of Age and Blossoming Love in Daddy Long Legs – Theater Review
Megan Wrappe, Contributing Writer, September 29, 2015
In today’s technology-driven society the art of letter writing, let alone love letters, has all but disappeared. Notes that couples used to send to each other and treasure for years have now been modernized into text messages, which do not seem to have quite the emotional meaning of a handwritten note. But a little show, Daddy Long Legs, which opened tonight Off-Broadway at the Davenport Theatre, is quietly reminding us of the importance of real human connection.
The story of Daddy Long Legs is one that has been refashioned time and time again, yet it still appears fresh on stage here, thanks to a book and direction by John Caird and music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, the creative team behind Jane Eyre the Musical. Daddy Long Legs first appeared in novel form by Jean Webster, published in 1912. It also inspired the 1955 movie staring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron. The musical’s main heroine, Jerusha Abbott (Megan McGinnis), is the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home. Known for her passion for writing, she longs to leave the orphanage she has called home since she was born, to make it as a writer. When a benefactor of the home, Jervis Pendleton (Paul Alexander Nolan in his Off-Broadway debut), notices Jerusha’s work, he decides to pay for her college education, but only if he is known to her simply as “Mr. Smith.” The two correspond only through letters. Jerusha addresses hers to “Daddy Long Legs,” named for the spider she saw in her room while writing her first letter, because Mr. Smith seems too impersonal. It is through these letters that Jervis begins to see the true spirit and quirkiness of Jerusha’s character, and a relationship besides benefactor and student develops. When Jervis realizes that Jerusha has befriended his niece at school, however, he must decide whether to finally reveal who he actually is or continue on as “Mr. Smith.”
As an avid fan of classic novels, including Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, I found myself completely swept up in this love story. The idea that Jervis passes himself off as “Mr. Smith” in the letters but as Jervis Pendleton in real life may seem completely odd to some modern audiences. But taking into account the influences classic literature has on the story, it is actually a common plot twist. We see Jervis develop as a character, from a somewhat selfish young man into someone who may actually care deeply about someone in a manner very similar to one of the most well-known male characters of classic literature, Fitzwilliam Darcy. And as for Jerusha, she is the type of character you just cannot help but fall in love with. Watching McGinnis’s performance was a breath of fresh air, because she portrayed Jerusha as she should be, an innocent, normal girl who is just beginning to find out who she is. And between McGinnis’ heavenly voice and Nolan’s deep melodies, the chemistry between the two both acting-wise and musically was palpable.
There is no hard drama here, and it is not missed. Instead, the story flows well as a simple coming-of-age story that also blossoms into love. The trials of life, learning who you are as a person and ultimately what you want to become, are enough to carry the story eloquently, especially with the duo of McGinnis and Nolan. And most importantly, it reminds us all that in this fast-paced world there is nothing quite like real human love or true connections.
Daddy Long Legs at the Davenport Theatre, 345 West 45th Street, New York, NY.