Jean Webster’s novel, on which Daddy Long Legs is based, was written in 1911 in a farmhouse in Massachusetts. and much of its New England common sense, dry humor, and old fashioned virtues have been grafted on to its stage adaptation. The two authors of this small musical have chosen to populate it with just the two central characters, Jerusha and Jervis, leaving the difficult burden of telling their story to them. They further removed dialog as a major conduit, preferring to feed us information via the singing of most of the recitative sections of the material.
There are literally 24 titles including reprises. The simplicity of these titles indicates the not very deep depth, wit, and wisdom contained therein. An example or two: “Who Is This Man?,” “Shall We Meet?,” “The Secret of Happiness,” “What Does She Mean By Love?,” and “I Have Torn You From My Heart.” Pretty simple stuff, with melodies to match. The answers are simplistic as well, and there are few if any twists, turns, or surprises.
The lady and gent cast in the two roles therefore have to leave the stage now and then in order to remove a hat or add a coat. They can’t stay off long however, as each has 7 solos and 10 duets to deliver, and that’s a lot. Megan McGinnis and Adam Halpin comprise the entire cast, and they work well together. Offstage they are man and wife, which might contribute to the ease with which they respond to one another. Unfortunately, the situation in which they find themselves is so familiar it creates little conflict, chaos, or confusion for the audience, though it does baffle Ms. McGinnis until very near the final curtain by which time even she realizes that she’s been in love all along with her “dear friend,” whom she first met in the middle of Act One.
I mention “dear friend” because the story is very similar in theme to so many that followed it onstage or screen. The Shop Around The Corner, She Loves Me, You’ve Got Mail and many others have dealt with elements of romance mixed with mistaken identity, and most have found favor with the public.
Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron had a fling with it in a film using its original title. The songs in this version only seem to raise the question why the authors didn’t allow their people to talk to each other more often. Paul Gordon (music and lyrics) and John Caird (book and direction) are experienced pros. The characters, as they have written them, play a very short scene, then burst into song, and the songs rarely take us very far forward in the development of their story or reveal much of their inner life. Nor are they particularly rib tickling or soul stirring, which caused audience restlessness through much of the second act at my performance.
McGinnis and Halpin have the right looks, manner and voice to personify Jerusha and Jervis, but they are somewhat lumbered by the stodginess of the writing. In addition, they are housed in a vivid and detailed set indicating a thickly-volumed library, which will serve as background for Jervis’ office, for Jerusha’s private quarters and for anything else needed to tell a story that covers many years, in which we follow Jerusha’s growth until she is mature enough to earn the happy ending this treacly material requires.
There’s not much Mr. Caird can do as director to bring invention to the staging, for he’s got one set and two actors. That one set is so realistic, it would seem more appropriate for a non-musical play, the only action of which transpires in it. One can’t expect much heel clicking in a library, so all these two pleasant people can do is move about a lot, sometimes facing each other, sometimes circling, occasionally sitting and even now and then embracing, more like cousins than lovers. Victorian and Edwardian ladies saved themselves for the marriage bed, but I wouldn’t expect fireworks from these two pleasant people in any of the decades ahead.
Daddy Long Legs has been running for seven months now, and it makes for a diverting look back at another time and its quaint ways. There were many Aunt Maudes, old gentlemen, and Grannies with grandkids in my audience, and they may well be the target audience for this pleasant offering. They (well, maybe not the kids so much) seemed to be having a swell time.
Running Time: Two hours, including an intermission.
Daddy Long Legs is playing at The Davenport Theatre – 354 West 45th Street (Between 8th and 9th Avenues), in New York City. For tickets, go to the box office, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6210 or (800) 543-4835, or purchase them online.