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Jane Enkin

 
Jane Enkin; Review of Daddy Long Legs at RMTC

by Jane Enkin, March 21, 2013

 

 

 

Daddy Long Legs continues at RMTC to April 6

 

 

There's always a bit of trepidation when I return to a book I adored as a child. I read Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs over and over; I am happy to report that I still love the book and love sharing it with my young daughter. The writing is witty and heartfelt, the characters are clearly and cleverly drawn, and they all emerge in letters written by one person. I laugh with Jerusha Abbott as she describes her weariness as a hard-slogging orphan in The John Grier Home, and even more as she remakes herself as Judy Abbott, college student, who reports to her anonymous benefactor her small adventures, frustrations and delights. Judy learns how to fit in with other girls, and how to stand out as an independent thinker and writer.

 

There's trepidation and anticipation, too, when a favourite book is transformed into a play. Daddy Long Legs is a two-character musical, with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and book and direction by John Caird, well-known for their work in New York and internationally. My daughter and I enjoyed this gentle, warm show.

 

One character is Jerusha Abbott, who speaks through her letters and in songs that build on part of what she expresses in the book. Only part – this Jerusha is incredibly sweet and earnest. Everything she says, her fears and frustrations and the beautiful way she expresses appreciation, are true to the book. We do a get a sense of her wit and her intense sense of justice as she describes snobs, calls attention to poor treatment of orphans, and looks forward, in 1912, to the inevitable triumph of the Votes for Women movement. But my daughter and I both missed the playfulness and mischief of Jerusha the way we remember her.

 

The other character in the play is Jervis Pendleton. In the book, he is present only in Jerusha's descriptions. Caird and Gordon enjoy their opportunity to imagine him as a complex, emotional character. I always thought of him as a detached, bemused observer. I buy Caird and Gordon's version completely – Jervis is passionate while trying not to be, overflowing with admiration, pride, jealousy, guilt, generosity and love.

 

There is a beautiful love story in Jean Webster's book, and it becomes the main focus of this musical production. Jerusha in her letters and songs, and Jervis, reading the letters and singing his own thoughts, slowly and tenderly explore their feelings.

 

Megan McGinnis is a charming Jerusha. She has a supple, lovely voice and shows some glimpses of the character's fire and determination, while delivering mostly the sweetness called for by the script and the music. She effectively shows Jerusha's transformation from tentative, awkward college freshman to self assured woman.

 

Robert Adelman Hancock sings beautifully and earns many laughs as Jervis copes with the ways Jerusha imagines and describes him, and the ways he begins to see himself. He earns lots of sympathy too. There's a wistful scene in which the two characters are together in New York. He is clearly captivated by her; she is clearly captivated by New York.

 

The set, which makes the large stage more intimate, is filled with the books both Jervis and Jerusha love. Looks like a dream home to me – filled with beloved, often-revisited books!

 
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