Story: Jerusha Abbott proclaims herself to be ‘the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home.” She’s lived there all of her 18 years, and was named after a moniker etched on a tombstone in the local cemetery.
Her life is about to change, though, in 1908, when she is informed by the stern orphanage administrator that one of the Home’s trustees has set aside money to send her to college so that this girl with a seeming knack for words can train to become a professional writer.
Jerusha is not to know who her benefactor is, although she surmises that he is tall because she glimpsed his elongated form as he left the orphanage. Thus, she calls him ‘Daddy Long Legs’ and for whatever reason also considers him to be quite old.
Conditions of her gift include the proviso that she write her benefactor monthly so that he can learn how she is progressing with her writing. He will always remain anonymous, going by the affected name ‘John Smith.’
As time goes by, though, both Jerusha and Jervis Pendleton, her secret (and handsome, single and youthful, if socially awkward and shy) benefactor, find themselves increasingly attracted to each other through those regular missives. Pendleton even arranges visits to Jerusha under the pretext of seeing his niece, one of Jerusha’s (least favorite) friends at college.
While delighted with the adventure of exploring new books and ideas, Jerusha remains frustrated with Daddy Long Legs’ consistent refusal to communicate with her, even though he sets up her summers with stays at a beloved farm until she sets out on her own to tutor youngsters. She is emotionally crushed, though, when he doesn’t bother to attend her graduation.
Will Jerusha ever meet the man who paid for her education? Will she even care once she does, given his distant, cold treatment of her through so many lonely years?
Highlights: Insight Theatre Company opens its 12th season, termed “A Riot of the Heart,” with a pleasing rendition of this gentle, two-character chamber musical written by John Caird and Paul Gordon. An affecting performance by Jennifer Theby Quinn complements fine singing by her and Terry Barber in this charming period piece.
Other Info: Daddy Long Legs debuted at the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura, California in 2009 before an Off-Broadway production eventually opened in 2015. It’s a quaint little piece written by John Caird, with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon. The two previously collaborated on the 2001 Broadway presentation of Jane Eyre, and Gordon also wrote the book for the musical Emma.
That affinity for classic works of literature is apparent in this adaptation of a 1912 novel written by Jean Webster which successfully transports its audience back to an age when a young woman had to fight for what few rights she had. Insight’s use of a trio of musicians underscores the gentle, cozy nature of the story with great effect.
Rob Lippert’s smart scenic design focuses primarily on Pendleton’s well-appointed Manhattan office, which is filled with bookcases lined with tomes of classical literature, a polished desk and handsome accoutrements in the background. Lippert’s lighting adds to the effect, and Julian King’s costume design smartly dresses the players in proper early 20th century attire.
Zoe Vonder Haar adds some pleasing choreography for the gentle effort, which is buoyed by the touching musical accompaniment by music director Scott Schoonover at the keyboard and fine collaboration by guitarist Vincent Varvel and cellist Tracy Andreotti.
Director Maggie Ryan lovingly recreates the sound and look of a distant land (early 20th century New England) with this leisurely paced production. She benefits substantially from Theby Quinn’s innate ability to immerse herself into a character and bring that role to vibrant, introspective life.
Barber’s acting is rather stolid and one-dimensional by contrast, with mostly one expression. He shines, however, when his beautiful countertenor voice delivers Gordon’s appealing and intelligent music and lyrics, as does Theby Quinn. Their duets are sweet and easy on the ears.
Daddy Long Legs is an endearing little tale of a distant time before social media when people could remain elusive and reclusive until a happy if improbable ending. Insight Theatre Company’s faithful rendition of this soft and sweet story gets its “Riot of the Heart” season off to a loving start.
Musical: Daddy Long Legs
Company: Insight Theatre Company
Venue: Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive
Dates: April 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14
Tickets: $20-$40, contact 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb