Thursday, October 27, 2011

Daddy Long Legs

DADDY LONG LEGS…charming and harmonic at CPH

Daddy Long Legs, a novel by the American writer Jean Webster, Mark Twain’s great grandniece, has had a glorious trek. Originally published in 1912, it was transformed into a play in 1914 starring Ruth Chatterton, into a 1919 Mary Pickford movie, a 1931 film staring Janet Gaynor, a 1935 movie called CURLY TOP starring Shirley Temple, a 1952 British stage musical dubbed Love from Judy, then the 1955 film Daddy Long Legs (starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron).

Most recently, it became a musical with a book by Tony and Olivier Award-winner John Caird (Nicholas Nickelby, Les Miserables) and music and lyrics by Tony-nominee Paul Gordon (Jane Eyre). Not bad for a plot that is as thin as a pencil lead and whose conclusion is telegraphed within the first minute of play.

The Caird-Gordon rendition is presently on stage at Cleveland Play House.

The script, like most female writing around the turn of century, centers on a sentimental girl heroine. Think Kate Douglas Wiggin’s REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM, Eleanor Porter’s POLYANNA and Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN.

Set in early 1900 New England, this is the story of Jerusha Abbot, a bright orphan sent to a prestigious college by an anonymous benefactor she nicknames Daddy Long Legs. Revealed through witty and insightful letters sent to a man she supposedly never sees, it is a delightful look at her journey to womanhood.

The spoken and sung lines are so blended together that the entire effect carries the audience into a state of serene smiles and the feeling of happy escape. The music is often intoxicating. The song titles give clear clues to the story, The Oldest Orphan in the John Grier Home, Who is This Man?, Things I Don’t Know, What Does She Mean By Love?, and I Couldn’t Know Someone Less.

The song, The Secret of Happiness, which carries the script’s theme, is a tribute to how a person can have a series of personal revelations that result in her finding her true self. As Gordon states, “It’s about how people come together in a quite interesting and magical way. Don’t be afraid to be different. Be yourself. Just work your hardest to get your own ideas out there and do what you can in the world and shine.”

The staging and interpretation is creative. John Caird’s direction is spot on. There are two glorious performances. Add an effective lighting design, a purposeful set, finely tuned music which supports and does not drown out the lyrics, and the result is a wonderful theatrical experience.

The CPH production is a resurrection. Caird previously staged the show at numerous venues, with the same cast, starting with its world premiere in 2009.

Megan McGinnis is effervescent as Jerusha. The beautiful young lady has a wonderful singing voice, is a fine actress and lights up the stage with her presence. She is the prototype of the Broadway leading lady.

Tall, handsome and talented, Robert Adelman Hancock is the perfect partner for McGinnis. He sings well, develops the right vulnerability, and the duo appears to be made for one another.

In an interview McGinnis said, "I can't tell you how much I love this piece. It's a brilliant and beautiful show — so well crafted. Jerusha is the most human character I've ever played. She is fallible and opinionated and real. You watch her develop into this wonderfully strong and independent woman, as she falls in love with knowledge and learning, and also falls in love with a man! It's certainly a journey I don't mind taking every night."

Capsule judgement: Though some may call it a bit of sentimental fluff, a staged chick flick with formulaic music, I’d term it a charming tale, developed with clear characters, set to melodic music with beautiful harmonic blends, that is well staged and performed. DADDY LONG LEGS is an absolute must see!

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