Friday, June 15, 2018

Main Street Theater's "Daddy Long-Legs"

I've been horribly remiss; I saw Main Street Theater's delightful production of Daddy Long-Legs a few weeks ago, and meant to post about it immediately, but a whole lotta life got in the way, so I'm only just posting now. And that means there are a few more chances to see it before it closes this Sunday (June 17). And it is so worth seeing!

By way of quick background, this version of Daddy Long-Legs stems from a late-2000s production that was co-premiered by three small theater programs before making London and off-Broadway runs. It's based directly on Jean Webster's 1912 novel of the same name, even retaining the one-sided epistolary format. And this is probably the only two-person musical I've ever seen, but if ever there was a property perfect for a two-person musical, this is it.

The plot is simple: an orphan named Jerusha Abbott receives news that she's to be sent to college by a mysterious benefactor, whose only requirement in return is that Jerusha write to him once a month telling him about her experiences. She is not to expect any reply, and will only know her benefactor by the obvious pseudonym of "Mr. Smith." That name is far too pedestrian for the imaginative Jerusha, however, so she dubs him "Daddy Long-Legs" after having caught a glimpse of his elongated shadow in the orphanage's vestibule. Jerusha's letters, spoken and sung in turns by the two actors, give life to Jerusha's social and academic awakening in the most charming way possible. Since much of the letters' text comes directly from the novel, Jerusha's original voice comes shining through.
[Shanae'a Moore as Jerusha Abbott.
Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography.]

Seeing this play was truly special for me. I read the novel at least twice as a young adult -- I still own my copy -- and even sought out the tangential sequel about Jerusha's best friend at college, Sallie McBride. Matt Harris Andersen made a fine Jervis Pendleton, and Shanae'a Moore's exquisitely pure voice, combined with just the right amount of girlishness, made for a perfect Jerusha. In fact, after having several of the songs run through my head for days after the show, I broke down and listened to the off-Broadway recording, and I have to say that I preferred Ms. Moore's voice to that of Megan McGinnis.

The other thing that made this experience special was the theater itself. Although this production has such a simple story and small cast, Main Street Theater did not skimp at all on the set, with Jervis's beautifully designed and lighted study in the background, and some movable furniture and props representing Jerusha's surroundings at the forefront. And because this cozy theater is only three rows deep (on three sides of the stage), the audience feels immersed. I happened to be sitting in the front row, and once or twice felt compelled to draw my feet in closer because I didn't want Jerusha tripping over them in her skirts!

I highly, highly recommend this production -- click here for ticket information. And if you want to familiarize yourself with the source material, a public domain e-book is freely available in several formats on Project Gutenberg.

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