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."