Daddy Long Legs: Broad Stage, 6/25/10

29 06 2010

I have to preface this review with a personal story: The musical Little Women was developed at Duke University my freshman year, 2004.  With student tickets priced at $5, I attended countless performances, eager to keep track of how the show was developing for Broadway. I was also simply obsessed with the story and its musicalization. Louisa May Alcott’s novel had been one of my favorites since childhood; Jo March’s mission to become a famous writer in NYC had always resonated with my own ambitions beyond the little town of Albemarle, NC.  Jo’s big Act I finale, “Astonishing,” pulled me to the edge of my seat and left my mouth agape every night.  (This is a “spotlight moment” at its finest!) Being an older sister myself, the March sisters’ friendship also drew me to the story time and time again. Jo and Beth’s duet “Some Things Are Meant to Be” always brought tears to my eyes.  Above and beyond a beautiful composition, this song showcased two magnificent performers: Sutton Foster as Jo and Megan McGinnis as Beth.  Beth’s purity and innocence was so perfectly encapsulated by McGinnis’ pristine soprano.  I fell in love with her voice.

Little Women was far from a perfect musical, but the story, the songs, the performers, and the memories will always hold a special place in my heart. This musical was so influential in my own development; I don’t think I would be studying and composing musical theater today without that freshman-year experience that first catapulted me into theater.

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Flash forward to 2010: I was thrilled to learn of a new musical starring the exceptionally talented Megan McGinnis here in LA – and again based on a childhood favorite, Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster.  An anonymous trustee of the John Grier Home decides to support the further education of a promising orphan, Jerusha Abbott. Throughout college, Jerusha must write her benefactor once a month – though she is never to expect any correspondence in return.  In reading all the letters addressed to “Daddy Long Legs,” though, Jerusha’s surprisingly young benefactor Jervis Pendleton grows entranced by this young woman’s intelligence, wit, and passion.

With book by John Caird, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, the musical adaptation of Daddy Long Legs is truly charming.  I feared a full-length 2-person, largely epistolary musical could grow long and tedious.  But after some awkward embodiments of multiple roles in the opening song, the show takes flight when Jerusha begins writing; Caird’s book then hones in on the dynamic, developing relationship between Jerusha and Jervis. Like his work for Jane Eyre, Gordon’s score is lovely and lyrical, with particularly soaring strings. Still, the music occasionally falls into a strange folk-rock inflection that jolts me out of the musical (“Like Other Girls,” “Charity”) – as do the odd anachronistic vocal riffs (“Charity,” “Graduation Day”).  The music also exceeds the lyrics, which sometimes grow repetitive.  Again, these lyrical challenges are most apparent in Act II’s “Charity” and “Graduation Day,” where the creative team is still struggling to structure the denouement.

But when Daddy Long Legs succeeds, it truly soars.  I was captivated enough to purchase a cast recording, which has been playing nonstop in my car since last Friday.  “The Secret of Happiness” (so reminiscent of “Some Things Are Meant to Be” for me) is a true gem: such a genuine and heartfelt composition, not to mention so stunningly performed by Megan McGinnis as Jerusha.  McGinnis is just as earnest and charming in Daddy Long Legs as in Little Women, and her performance sustains the musical, developing from a young freshman to a mature young woman over the course of the show.  Her pristine voice blends beautifully with Robert Adelman Hancock as Jervis, who is a dynamic performer – but an echo (literally, in many of the songs) to Megan McGinnis’ Jerusha.

While Daddy Long Legs still needs some development, it is already a delightful chamber musical.  This new piece is given a beautiful production at Santa Monica’s Broad Stage, with particularly sumptuous costumes and set – including projections that keep the audience attuned to dates, locations, and even the specific correspondent by using distinctive fonts.  Still, the 499-seat Broad Stage seems – if anything – a bit too large for such an intimate musical; the amplified sound is rather too hollow and distant for my taste.  I know the creative team has Broadway aspirations, but I fear Daddy Long Legs‘ venture to Broadway may replicate the Story of My Life syndrome.  These intimate musicals demand intimate spaces, not cavernous Broadway theaters.  Keep them small, keep them special.

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One response

4 07 2010
Jen Fingal

May I borrow the cast recording when I get back? I’m so sad I didn’t get to see it!!! I loooove little women so much, by the way.

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