Thursday, November 11, 2010

Daddy Long Legs Enchants Audiences at La Mirada Theatre

I love this musical as much now as the first time I saw it at Rubicon Theatre…then at The Broad Stage…and currently at La Mirada Theatre, where it will run through November 21st. Many a friend and colleague has heard me rave about the show, and it remains on the top of my recommendation list of musicals to see, especially since it features its original cast, Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock. If you are anywhere within driving distance of La Mirada, GO see this show. If you’ve got a heart, this story will touch it.

Based on the novel by Jean Webster, and beautifully adapted and directed by John Caird (Tony Award winner for Les Misérables and Tony nominated for Jane Eyre), and composer Paul Gordon, it is the story of Jerusha Abbott, an 18-year orphan who is unexpectedly given the opportunity to go to college by an unnamed trustee of the orphanage.

There she begins a new journey of discovery, one which we are able to experience with her via her required letters to the mysterious “Mr. Smith,” whom she promptly nicknames “Daddy Long Legs.” One of the few things she knows about her benefactor is that he is very tall, having seen him in the shadows as he was leaving the orphanage one night.

Beyond that she knows that he is rich, that he will not respond to her letters, and that he doesn’t like girls, since he’s only sponsored the education of boys previously. We laugh as she ponders what Daddy looks like. Old? Gray? Bald? And eventually concludes that he is a kindly old gentleman of 93…an assumption that “Daddy” finds humorous since he knows he is actually a young man.

We also feel the ache in Jerusha’s voice as she says, “the things that most girls, with a properly assorted family and friends and a library, know by absorption, I’ve never even heard of.” She reveals the embarrassment of not knowing Michelangelo was a painter and not an archangel or of thinking that Florence Nightingale was a Freshman, leaving her feeling like “Alice in Wonderland stranded at Vanity Fair…I’m so many years behind. I’m still so many years behind.” Her humanity speaks to us all, for who in their life hasn't felt like an outsider, yearned for something better, or wanted to belong

As she blossoms into a young woman we also see the affect she has upon her benefactor. Born wealthy through no effort of his own, he is a humble man who keeps to himself, preferring the company of his books to the intrusion of people. Never intending to become interested in her life beyond affording her a proper education, he finds himself looking forward to her letters, wondering what she will say next.

And why not? The humor Jerusha displays in spite of her limited upbringing is endearing. She is disarmingly inquisitive, thoughtful, spirited, and sincere in a way that propels her into your heart before you even know that it’s happened.

Continuing the roles they both originated are Megan McGinnis as Jerusha and Rob Hancock as Jervis Pendleton a.k.a. Daddy Long Legs. As I’ve said before, McGinnis is luminous onstage with the voice of a nightingale, and in this vivacious star-turn of a performance, she continues to be magnificent. Jerusha is a role this Broadway actress was born to play, adding to her previous Broadway credits that include Beth in Little Women, Eponine in Les Misérables and Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

Hancock, a tall, boyishly handsome actor with piercing blue eyes, is a natural in the role of Jervis Pendleton / Daddy Long Legs and it is great fun to watch his own unexpected journey of self-discovery. (Regional audiences might recognize him from his starring role in the national tour of Mamma Mia!) When Jerusha signs one of her letters ‘Love, Jerusha’ at the end of the first act, he is taken aback by the sentiment (“What Does She Mean by Love?”), not understanding. How can she use the word ‘love’ when, in his mind, all he has done is provide her with the opportunity to become educated?

This new ending to Act I, plus several plot and song changes in the second act (all made since the original version at Rubicon), deepens the story and make it better than ever. And oh, the music! Paul Gordon’s score is filled with beautiful melodies and clever lyrics you’ll find yourself singing long after the show has ended. The way he captures a thought and sets it to music somehow makes a direct bee line to your heart. Gordon was nominated for a Tony Award for his music and lyrics for Jane Eyre and he has another new musical, Emma, based on Jane Austen’s novel, opening at The Old Globe in San Diego in January (good reason for a road trip).

The outstanding Daddy Long Legs design team includes David Farley (set and costumes), Paul Toben (lighting), T. Theresa Scarano (props), and Brad Haak (musical supervision & orchestrations, together with Paul Gordon). Julie McBride is the musical director & conductor of the six-piece orchestra, and Laura Bergquist provided additional arrangements and original musical direction.

Daddy Long Legs continues at La Mirada Theatre through November 21st. Tickets are available at

Whether Jerusha is thoughtfully pondering the secret of happiness or humorously observing the behavior of men, “they purr if you rub them the right way; they spit if you don’t,” you'll find yourself thinking about your own life in a way you may not have before. Don’t miss this enchanting musical, sure to become a classic favorite.
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