Saturday, December 3, 2016

Review: "Daddy Long Legs" (Lucie Stern Theater)

Is it every woman's fantasy - to be wooed and married to a wealthy, handsome, eligible bachelor?

In "Daddy Long Legs", a sweet musical adaption of Jean Webster's 1912 novel, we get to explore the finer points of this question.

On stage of the Lucie Stern theater in Palo Alto, Jerusha Abbott (played by the delightful Hilary Maiberger and Jervis Pendleton (played by Derek Carley) relate their lengthy tale of romantic correspondence in poignant letters.

The story begins as Jerusha Abbott, the eldest orphan, is preparing her orphanage for the monthly trustee visit. "A perfectly awful day", she laments, as she cleans the floor, despairing at her lot in life.

All is not lost, however, as she receives most fortuitous news - a trustee (with a generic name of Mr. Smith) has agreed to fund her college education. His one pre-condition - that Jerusha send him letters once a month - is easily accepted. However, there is one idiosyncratic point - Mr. Smith will never answer or acknowledge the reception of her monthly correspondence.

Jerusha can’t abide his alias. “Why couldn’t you have picked out a name with a little personality?” she protests. Because she has had one small glimpse of him and knows him to be tall — and further imagines him old and gray — she calls him Daddy Long Legs.

What Jerusha doesn’t know is that Daddy, whose actual name is Jervis Pendleton, isn’t so geriatric after all and that the affable impertinence of her letters has made him fall in love. Soon, Jervis is contriving to meet her, without ever admitting his philanthropy, and taking a more active role in steering the course of her life.

Jerusha writes about her lessons from her freshman year classes ("Freshman Year Studies"), and describes her anxiety over trying to fit in with the other girls at her college due to her upbringing in an orphanage ("Like Other Girls"). She then writes about her embarrassment at her lack of education and her excitement about learning ("Things I Didn't Know"). During the Christmas vacation, Jerusha stays behind in the college to catch up on her reading, and sends her love to Daddy Long Legs in her loneliness. The shy and awkward Jervis finds her affection-filled letters disconcerting ("What Does She Mean By Love?"). Jerusha flunks two of her first exams and is mortified. She becomes ill and writes angrily to Daddy Long Legs, accusing him of not caring for her and simply supporting her merely out of charity. Moved by this, Jervis sends her a bouquet of flowers, and Jerusha is penitent ("I'm A Beast").

Enthralled by her letters, Jervis arranges to meet his young beneficiary, under the pretence that he is meeting his niece Julia, who happens to be Jerusha's least favorite friend ("When Shall We Meet?"). After meeting Jervis, Jerusha is immediately drawn to him: "He's a real human being, not a Pendleton after all ... he looked at me as if he really knew me, almost better than I know myself." Despite this, Jerusha become more and more curious regarding her old and gray Daddy Long Legs ("The Color of Your Eyes").

But it’s still unethical that Jervis woos Jerusha without disclosing his identity and at least a little disconcerting that this proto-feminist tale ends with its plucky heroine rewarded with marriage to the man who has manipulated her for the past five years. Maybe she should write a letter of complaint.

While I enjoyed the musical, it's not up to par with muscial gems such as Cole Porter's Anything Goes, Annie, or My Fair Lady. There are no memorable songs such as "Tomorrow", "You're the Top", or "Wouldn't it be Loverly?" In addition, I find it surprising that during her four years in college, Jerusha does not develop any close male or female friends. The story seems too contrived and a bit unrealistic.

Daddy Long Legs Report Card
  • Hilary Maiberger sang very well
  • Derek Carley acted his role well (but his voice is not very strong)
  • The period costumes are attractive
  • The set is well designed, reflecting the 1912 time period
  • Sparse music arrangements
  • No memorable songs
  • Lyrics don't rhyme, songs are mostly prose set to music
  • The story is told entirely by reading letters, so there is very little face-to-face interaction
  • The main plot is a bit contrived and unrealistic