Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Daddy Long Legs - The Musical

Bear with me, please, and I'll eventually get to the book, Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. But, first, I want to talk about theater.

I love theater. My hometown, Huron, Ohio, has Ohio's oldest continuing summer theater, The Huron Playhouse. The first play was produced there in 1949, and each summer, there is a complete season of plays. When I was a child, my mother took us to the annual children's play they put on, so she exposed all of us to theater at an early age. I was lucky enough to take a History of Theater and Drama course in college, one that required us to attend and review plays. Then, when I went to grad school in Washington, D.C., I took advantage of the student rates at the theaters, and saw a play at every theater in D.C., from the Kennedy Center to Ford's Theatre and the Folger Shakespeare Center. I have season tickets to ASU Gammage's Broadway series.

Arizona Theatre Company, the state theatre company of Arizona, has productions in both Tucson and Phoenix. Here in Phoenix, they appear at the Herberger Theater. I've seen two of their productions, and have tickets to their next show, Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps. Both shows I saw had the most magnificent sets, with beautiful detail.

At the present time, Arizona Theatre Company is hosting a traveling show, Daddy Long Legs. It's based on Jean Webster's 1912 epistolary novel. The show has been touring for two years as a two person musical starring Megan McGinnis as Jerusha Abbott and Robert Adelman Hancock as Jervis Pendleton. The Arizona Theatre Company's play guide summarizes this production. "From the Tony Award-winning director of Les Misèrables and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, and the creators of the Tony Award-nominated Jane Eyre, comes a heartwarming new musical based on a book beloved for generations. Daddy Long Legs tells of a young girl’s Cinderella journey into womanhood, aswell as a confirmed bachelor’s awakening into love. Told through a series of letters between Jerusha Abbott, the oldest orphan at the John Grier Home, and Jervis Pendleton, her mysterious benefactor, Daddy Long Legs is a testament to the power of the written word and its ability to touch our hearts. An elegant and inventive romance, this award-winning musical love story has been lauded for its innocence, its sheer beauty, and its depth of emotion, not to mention its magnificent musical score. Winner of three prestigious Ovation Awards including Best Book, Best Score and Lead Actress in an Original Musical."

Daddy Long Legs came to Arizona from Cleveland, and it will be continuing to tour the country. If you get the chance to see it, grab it. This was a fascinating production, on a beautiful split set. Except when Jervis Pendleton met with Jerusha, he spent his time in a gorgeous library, reading Jerusha's letters to "Daddy Long Legs," and reacting to them. That library was on a raised set, while Jerusha, in her college years, appeared on the lower level set, writing, reciting and singing her letters. Megan McGinnis has a strong, beautiful voice, perfect for this charming story. Robert Adelman Hancock, who played Jervis Pendleton, didn't have as many solos, although he often echoed Jerusha's songs. However, Hancock, in his role in the shadows, was intriguing. At times, while Jerusha sang, I caught myself watching Pendleton. His mannerisms, his hands, his movements were so expressive as he responded to her letters. Even when he didn't say a word, he could dominate the stage.

Let me share one of Arizona Theatre Company's clips of Daddy Long Legs, as it's shown on YouTube.

Jean Webster wrote Jerusha Abbot as a young, modern woman, independent with thoughts about women's rights and social service, particularly as it dealt with orphanages. But, it's not a heavyhanded message in the book or this production. Daddy Long Legs is a romance, the story of a young woman from an orphanage, and the wealthy philanthropist who grows to love her. It's a magical, charming production.

I have to say, I was impressed with the number of men in the audience who were enthusiastic about the show. I heard one man, at intermission, tell his wife, "This is such a, a joyful production. This is why we go to theater."

Daddy Long Legs, as a book, or this wonderful production, can take you away to an earlier time, another world, a romance. There are so many ways to experience it. See the play, if it comes anywhere near you. You can read the play guide on Arizona Theatre Company's website by going to the education section. And, if you can't get Jean Webster's Daddy Long Legs, you can read the text, free, online here - http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/5/157/157.txt. But, as a friend warned me, "If you so much as glance at the text, you will be sucked into reading the whole thing."


Kay said...

I don't think I knew that this one was performed as a musical. Very interesting. I've seen the movie, years ago. And, I came across the author and her books in a YA series that enjoyed recently, The Mother-Daughter Book Club series. Each book was a year in the life of several girls and their mothers and each year they read from a classic author, children's or otherwise. Anyway, it made me want to read Jean Webster's books and this makes me want to see the stage production.

My daughter and I recently went to the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast that came to Austin. We enjoyed it thoroughly.

Vicki Lane said...

One of my favorite childhood books! There is also a good sequel -- DEAR ENEMY in which Jerusha's (Judy's) college friend takes over the orphanage and turns it into a nice place. And there's a charming love story. The only downside is the author's enthusiastic embrace of eugenics - a popular theory of the time.

Lesa said...

Kay, I went to the play with two Daddy Long Legs fanatics, and they told me NOT to watch the movie. In fact, one of them, who loves the book, said the musical actually had a more satisfactory ending. I hope if the play comes anyplace near you that you get the chance to see it.

Lesa said...


I told Kay I went to see the play with two fanatics. They both said Dear Enemy wasn't as good because Webster was preachier in that one about her viewpoints. Eugenics wasn't even mentioned in this one. I hope you get to see the musical sometime.

Beth Hoffman said...

I must be living beneath a rock. I don't recall hearing of this book, but I'm adding it to my list immediately. It sounds wonderful. Thanks so much for including the video too, Lesa!

Lesa said...

Oh, you're not living beneath a rock, Beth. The book was written in 1912. But, I have the feeling you'll love it. CeeCee would have loved it! You're just going to fall in love with Jerusha. And, you have to write me afterward, and tell me what you thought. Oh, Beth! I'm just so excited that you're going to "meet" Daddy Long Legs" for the first time. I know you only added it to a list, but I'm convinced you'll love this book.

I'm glad I could include the video!

rosemary said...

Hi Lesa,

Just checking in after my trip to Aberdeen. Last school finally back today!

Thank you so much for all these great recommendations. I like the look of so many - Vicky Delaney, Jean Webster, Beth Hoffman, Paige Shelton - all new names for me and about to join that ever growing list. I'm afraid I will need several lifetimes to get through it, but it's so good to have all these new possibilities.

At the moment I am reading 'Let's Kill Uncle' by Rohan O'Grady. It's quite different from anything I've read before and I'm enjoying it, though I feel sorry for the cougar....

I have bought a diary and am going to do as Writing Magazine suggests and block in time to write - which means I am already 15 mins late in starting, so I'd better get on.

Best wishes, Rosemary

Lesa said...

Welcome back, Rosemary! You've only been reading here for a short time, but I already missed your "voice." I'm glad I'm introducing you to some new authors.

Yes. You do need to start off well on your new resolution about writing every day. Enjoy it!