Theaters must be starved for musicals that don't demand a
large cast, full orchestra, spectacular costumes, and more than one change of
set. This may explain why a mediocre, melodramatic chamber musical like “
Daddy Long Legs”
makes the rounds of fine regional theaters and even
Or maybe a story of a
poor orphan who gets a college education from an unknown rich benefactor
leading to an epistolary connection and a predictable romantic one is a
surefire attraction. After all, it's gone from a novel through a number of
stage and screen versions, none an absolute flop. The one at FST even boasts
director and book writer who's worked with RSC, London's National Theatre, a
score of major opera companies.
And Sarasota has enough elderly who like old-fashioned and
sweet stuff as well as recall fondly the sourcebook by Jean Webster. So why did
I find the newest musical so boring?
From the start I wondered why young Jerusha Abbott, whose
correspondence with benefactor Jervis Pendleton constitutes the play, talks at
first and sometimes between letters to us (the audience).
Or is she given to talking out loud and
singing to herself, the air, some figment of her imagination? Why does she read
aloud her donor's requirements (he stays anonymous, she takes her education on
his terms and makes progress
reported monthly), since she's already agreed to and he's already made them?
Why is her first year so detailed but
so little reported about school and summers until her final year of
college? What's the reason for Jervis' philanthropy, for talking to us or
himself, for repeating aloud parts of letters she's already recited? How about
those times when they both sing together though apart?
The best part of the book is Jerusha's intellectual and social
growth; of the production, sweet Penny McNamee's sustained
enthusiasm and pursuit of Jerusha's
goal of being a writer.
seem a bit surprising that right out of college she could earn a handsome sum
on a first story.) Though she sometimes sings too softly, McNamee transitions
easily from saying to singing and is agile physically. She needs to be since
what passes for scenery in her part of the stage is a series of trunks, one of
which she has to use as a desk as she sits on the floor. They may be a metaphor
for her journey to maturity and independence, though the metaphor is broken
when she lines up two trunks for a bed. A large, raised part of the stage is
devoted to Jervis' desk in a polished dark wood corner of his book-lined
library. Not a well developed character, he comes close to being creepy as he
takes advantage of Jerusha's revelations to her “
to find out more of them,
put his real self forth in disguise as a suitor, and cut her off from summer
places where she'd meet or be with other young men. As a sort of paper person,
he sits most of his time with his back to her and the audience reading her letters.
(He really should read more of his history books because he refers to
Michelangelo as medieval.) Kevin Earley does what he can to
have Jervis seem likeable and maybe
pass off stiffness as shyness. His voice, though, is sure, confident. That's no
mean feat since the music is monotonous and lyrics forgettable, with no big
number or striking phrase. I didn't sense that music was needed most of the
time, other than as wake-ups. Four musicians were cleverly hidden backstage, I
guess so as not to show the keyboard that's not of the period.
Credit goes to David Farley for appropriate costumes,
especially those that come unwrinkled out of his scenic trunks. I thought it
odd that Jerusha's graduation gown had no hood and mortar board no tassel. And
I wasn't sure why books lined the entire proscenium at the end and how Jerusha
would get them, if they were her texts, into her postgrad home. (She said
earlier she was going to keep them as the contents of her education.) Publicity
for this show noted that the musical is extremely popular in Japan. The
production made me recall the old age about “
is east and West is west and....”
apply to my experience at FST.