I just had one of the loveliest theatrical experiences of my life up at Merrimack Rep in Lowell! You must see their utterly charming, sweetly engaging, beautifully staged and sung new musical DADDY LONG LEGS. It’s based on an old-fashioned epistolary novel of the same name by Jean Webster, with a premise ripe for romance. It’s set in New England, 1912 where a spunky young woman named Jerusha Abbott is languishing in an orphanage, when she is suddenly plucked from obscurity by an anonymous wealthy benefactor Jervis Pendleton. He sees her promise and decides to pay her way through college. There’s only one condition: she must write to him regularly of her progress, but he will not write back. It’s clear where this is going–and I happily settled in for the trip!
The show has the intimacy of a love letter. There are only two characters onstage but between them unfolds a vivid world of dreams, and becoming, and new love. Megan McGinnis is Jerusha and beguiles us as soon as we meet her– a young orphan with spark and curiosity to spare. Her handsome and hidden benefactor Jervis Pendleton is played by Robert Adelman Hancock–whose physicality, vulnerability, and slightly nasal tenor complement McGinnis clear tender soprano. Though no one song stands out, the score has a wistful grace and McGinnis and Hancock make beautiful music together–he often taking the high notes when they harmonize!
The show’s behind the scenes pedigree is sterling. Tony Award-winning, Royal Shakespeare Company director John Caird wrote the book and directs with a sure, light touch. There’s a real six-piece orchestra hidden offstage directed by Laura Berquist, while award-winning Broadway designer David Farley here gives us period costumes and a tall, warm, wood-paneled library with a suddenly transparent back wall. I can’t remember the last time something as simple as opening a pair of windows to let light in — made an audience gasp.
DADDY LONG LEGS may be “old-fashioned” on the outside– but its sensibility is modern. It has much to say about identity and authenticity, especially as it pertains to women. And among Paul Gordon’s lyrics is one about the humanizing power of art– as succinct as anything I’ve ever heard. Jerusha sings that “imagination make us kind” — because we can imagine what it’s like to be someone else. I left the theater feeling still, and calm, and light. In this day and age, that’s nothing short of a miracle. Do yourself a favor and see DADDY LONG LEGS– it’s one of the best things on stage right now. Through March 4!!