New York City Theater
"Daddy Long Legs"
“Be grateful for the rare opportunity that has been afforded you,” says Jervis, the anonymous benefactor of Jerusha, an orphaned young woman in “Daddy Long Legs,” an adorable, feel-good, off-Broadway, two-character musical. Recognizing her writing talent, Jervis offers to pay for Jerusha’s college, with the stipulation that she send him a letter each month. The attractive but reticent Brahmin benefactor remains mysterious and unknown, feeding into her fear that he’s over the hill. Her song, “I Couldn’t Know Someone Less,” is countered by his “She Thinks I’m Old.” With apt music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and a book by John Caird (based on the beloved 1912 epistolary novel by Jean Webster) and warm performances by Megan McGinnis as Jerusha and Adam Halpin as Jervis, this is a gem of a show, a sure antidote to overblown Broadway musicals.
His satisfaction in her progress reveals itself through his delight in her letters (they don’t meet as themselves until the end), which he pins on his bookcase shelves. In one of them, Jerusha sings, “Things I Didn’t Know,” referring to famous names (Florence Nightingale) and literature (“Great Expectations”) she has never heard of. Nor has she heard “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” an aphorism she readily takes to her soul.
As her mind expands, so does curiosity about her mentor. “When Shall We Meet,” she sings, while he fears being “The Man I’ll Never Be.” One of the many virtues is the slow, steady accumulation of hints, leading to the audience’s so wanting them to connect. You feel like getting up on stage and pushing them towards each other.
Both grow: she becomes worldly (“Men purr if you rub them the right way and spit if you don’t”); he resists falling for someone not in his class. It’s a “Pygmalion” situation where each has to overcome background (poor vs. rich, uninformed vs. scholarly) and learn to deal with the world as is. They have to deal with the present, the now, regardless of their pasts.
Scenic designer David Farley’s wood-panelled, book-lined study and his costumes transport us to a different but still recognizable era. Autumnal lighting by Paul Toben (adapted by Cory Pattak) and an unobtrusive sound design by Peter Fitzgerald are prime assets in creating a stuffy yet familiar atmosphere.
John Caird, director of “Les Misérables” and “Nicholas Nickleby,” brings his skills to a storybook evening that avoids being overly intellectual or syrupy emotional. In Megan McGinnis and Adam Halpin he has a pair of performers who are grounded and believable. “Daddy Long Legs” may be a period piece but its depiction of two people who hear the footsteps of time is timeless.
--David A. Rosenberg
May 4, 2016