Theatre Review: “Daddy Long Legs” @ Theatreworks, 01/26/10

Dear Mr. Smith,

First off, I just want to say thank you for paying for my college — still not really sure why you did, but thank you. I’m just an orphan and would never had the opportunity to become educated. In return, I’m going to write you extremely personal letters that should ultimately end up in my locked diary and not pasted all over your wall. In these letters (all of which I will sing to you – don’t be afraid to sing with me and sometimes rephrase what I say), I will emotionally attach myself to what I imagine you are: a tall, maybe balding, old man that becomes my “daddy-figure” since I’m an orphan and have no relatives of my own. Hence, I will call you Daddy Long Legs.

I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time writing letters during my freshman year, basically skip my sophomore year entirely, dabble for a bit in my junior year and then get extremely moody and bi-polar in my senior year.

You’ll become so attached to me, because of my incredible writing abilities, that you’ll stalk me (as yourself, Jervis) on my college campus until I fall in love with you. Then in my letters, I’ll make you jealous because I’ll write about another boy since I don’t see you enough. Instead of revealing yourself to me, you’ll continue the facade of being my “daddy” because you are a pompous ass.

Then, when I give up on you – Daddy Long Legs – I’ll become an independent woman, write a book (get paid quite handsomely for 1912) and pay you back every cent for the college loan you gave me. Then, and only then, you will reveal yourself to me because you can’t deal with your obsession and the thought of me not writing to you anymore.

Because, I have no self-respect, I’ll forgive you in mere seconds, for all of the lying and deception that you have incurred over the last four years. Because I have such a huge daddy complex and imagination that I can’t say no to your marriage proposal, right after I find out about your deception. Then we’ll hug, not kiss because that’s improper and a little weird because over the last four years I thought of you as my daddy.

We’ll live happily ever after in our deception and I couldn’t be happier because now I have a real “daddy.”  Good thing you have long legs or the title of my next book, Daddy Long Legs, wouldn’t make any sense.

It sounds like the perfect dream come true and everything I always wanted.

Sincerely,

Jerusha

—-

All of this, in perhaps a less cynical way, happens in the new musical Daddy Long Legs being co-produced by Theatreworks, Rubicon Theatre Company and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Daddy Long Legs, a new musical written by John Caird (director of Les Miserables) and music/lyrics/orchestrations by Paul Gordon (Jane Eyre and Emma), struggles to find its story among the myriad of songs and letters (all 28 of them) throughout the 2 hours and 15 minute production.

It opens with Jerusha (Megan McGinnis), a poor orphan, getting a letter from a mysterious Mr. Smith/Jervis (Robert Adelman Hancock) explaining that he’s sending her to college, for free. Jerusha is Mr. Smith’s charity case, a way to make a rich man feel happy for having so much money. Jerusha doesn’t know anyone at college and in turn starts to write to Mr. Smith a horde of letters during her 4-years at college. For the first 15 songs (or all of Act I) we find Jerusha in her freshman year of college, struggling through exams, health problems and lack of “world knowledge” that her roommates seem to have. All of these conflicts are so fleeting, that as an audience we don’t really care about any of them. We end Act I with a pop-infused “What Does She Mean by Love” – a duet between Jerusha and Jervis – that doesn’t give us any reason to stay for Act II.

As I sat through intermission, I looked over some of my notes that I had written: “too much music… slows story down”, “nice melody, but strange lyrics”, “strong orchestrations, especially with acoustic guitar” and “wow, that song sounds too much like the song ‘Chariots of Fire'”. Nothing was ever consistent, except the fact that there was song after song after song and all of them were in “letter style”. The best part of Act I was how the acoustic guitar was used throughout many of the songs, most notably in “Like Other Girls” and “The Secret of Happiness”. But then, I realized that an acoustic guitar, in this show, seems very out-of-place. The best part of the show probably should have been cut.

As we get into the Act II, the first two songs – “Sophomore Year Studies” and “The Girl in the Window Display” – explain her entire sophomore year. 15 songs for freshman year and two songs for her sophomore year? It doesn’t make any sense. The first time that we get in-depth look at Jerusha’s character was in “I Couldn’t Know Someone Less”, the third song in Act II. McGinnis finally showed some range in her character, allowing Jerusha to stop being this wide-eyed, happy-go-lucky girl and grow up into a real person. And it was the first time I cared about Jerusha (and the last).

The first real scene in the show was about half way through the second act. While it stood out of place with the rest of the show, it finally gave us more insight into the characters. As an audience, we finally had the opportunity to breathe and connect with Jerusha and Jervis as they created their mountain-top with eight trunks located in a pile center-stage. But, unfortunately three terrible songs followed this scene: “Humble Pie”, “Charity” and “Graduation Day” and brought me back right where I started with absolutely no connection to either character.

After Jervis reveals his true identity to Jerusha, he sings the reprise of “I’m a Beast”. It could have been a fantastic, passion-filled duet but it ended up being a lackluster solo by Hancock (most of his solos were). And then, Jerusha forgives him in the last song, “All This Time” and the whole show ends with a hug. (What?)

I was looking forward to hearing Gordon’s score, because I love Jane Eyre’s haunting melodies and passionate duets. The score for Daddy Long Legs becomes nauseating because each song becomes one-and-the-same. They are all mashed together since there is no variation on tempo or style.  There also wasn’t an acting or melodic climax to any of Gordon’s songs (except for “I Couldn’t Know Someone Less”) and only a handful of the 28 songs left me wanting to hear them again.

It’s a little unbelievable to me that three different theatre companies (all of repute) can produce something with such glaring issues with the book and music. Not to mention that Hancock’s singing and acting was breaching on amateurish at points. McGinnis tries, with her might, to keep this show afloat but you could tell that even this incredibly talented girl was becoming winded during the last half of Act I. She always quietly went to her corner and got a drink of water whenever Hancock had the limelight.

It’s all too much and all too little at the same time.

I tried to care. I wanted to root for her, but the writers gave me no reason.

If the producers are thinking about transferring it to Broadway, then they really need to think twice. While, it will probably sell fairly well at Theatreworks, because of their season subscribers, Daddy Long Legs has no chance of ever succeeding on Broadway at its current state (maybe with major revisions, but even then I question it). If the classic stories of Jane Eyre (209 performances) and Little Women (137 performances) can’t even hold an audience on Broadway, Daddy Long Legs will only impress a limited amount of people and definitely not enough to make enough of a splash to be a critical or monetary success.

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