Reviewed by Judy Richter
Composer/lyricist Paul Gordon has already taken two musicals, "Jane Eyre" and "Emma," to TheatreWorks. In fact, "Emma" premiered there. Now he's added a third, "Daddy Long Legs," whose book by John Caird (who also directs) is based on a novel by Jean Webster. Unlike the previous two shows, this one is on a smaller scale with only a two-person cast and single set. It also presents a bit of a challenge because the plot in the book was advanced through letters that the heroine, Jerusha Abbott, wrote to Jervis Pendleton, mainly during her four years in a New England college for women.
Caird and Gordon expand that approach by having Jervis (Robert Adelman Hancock) write letters to Jerusha (Megan McGinnis) but tearing them up. The premise is that Jerusha is an orphan ("The Oldest Orphan in the John Grier Home") whose writing draws the attention of Jervis, one of the orphanage's trustees. He decides to fund her college education with several stipulations, mainly that she must write to him frequently, but he'll never write her nor will he reveal his identity to her. He calls himself John Smith, which she recognizes as a pseudonym. Therefore, she calls him Daddy Long Legs after glimpsing his shadow as he was leaving the orphanage.
Jerusha upholds her end of the bargain, writing enthusiastic letters to her benefactor and revealing her maturation into a talented writer as well as an independent-minded woman. For his part, he becomes more and more enchanted with her and contrives to meet her through his niece, who lives in her dorm. Of course there are complications along the way, but love prevails.
The story is charming, but Gordon's music, though pleasant, has a degree of sameness. Musical director Laura Bergquist conducts her five fellow musicians from the keyboard. Caird paces the action well on David Farley's set, which features trunks that the actors move to represent various scenes. The trunks also hold various costume pieces (also by Farley) for Jerusha. The lighting by Paul Toben also establishes location, aided by Cliff Caruthers' sound.
McGinnis and Hancock are fine singers and actors who are highly believable in their roles. McGinnis, who carries much of the dramatic and musical load, is radiant and spunky.
Still, the show has its slow moments and might need more work if it's to advance to Broadway. TheatreWorks is the second of the show's three stops in a co-produced world premiere. It had its first outing at Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura, Calif. After TheatreWorks, it will go to Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, so presumably the creative team will have additional opportunities for fine-turning.