DADDY LONG LEGS(Regional Premiere)
Book by John Caird, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon
Directed by Rick Estes
Musical Direction by Scott Eckert
Scenic Design by Randel Wright
Lighting Design by Julie Simmons
Jerusha Abbott- Samantha McHenry
Jervis Pendleton- Christopher J. Deaton
Reviewed Performance: 1/19/2018
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Critic/Editor/Founder for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
DLL is based on the novel of the same name by Jean Webster written in 1912. It was first put on the stage boards at the Rubicon Theatre in California in October 2009. Four years later the next mounting was in London's West End in October 2012. In September 2015 it made its Off-Broadway debut where it would go on to receive Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations for Best Musical. The production not only had a successful open-end run, it received positive reviews from the New York critics.
The story is about Jerusha Abbott (Samantha McHenry) who is the “Oldest Orphan in the John Grier Home” until an anonymous benefactor (Christopher J. Deaton ) sees her potential as a writer and decides to send her to college. In exchange for her education, Jersusha is required to write him letters throughout her time at school. She is never to know her benefactor’s identity, so she makes one up: Daddy Long Legs. She gives him this nickname because of his long, spindly, body frame. Although she knows that he will never respond to her notes, she grows more and more fond and appreciative of this mysterious, kind man. Jerusha’s letters chronicle her transformation from a naive orphan girl to a strong, confident woman and an unexpected love story.
When it comes to directors you can really see their technique and artistry when there is less on the stage, i.e. actors, scenery etc. This regional premiere is directed by Rick Estes. Alas there is some stiffness and repetitive within his staging and blocking. Both actors for the most part stay on their respective play areas, or make a direct path to downstage center. However, Estes does a superlative job in bringing out natural, honest, performances from both Ms. McHenry and Mr. Deaton. There is not a hint of false emotion and the subtext flows from both actors. Estes succeeds wonderfully in allowing his two actors truly feel the lyrics in every song.
Randel Wright’s scenic design is quite interesting. For Jerusha Abbott he has a raked stage with large wooden window panes hanging from the fly rails. For Jervis Pendleton Wright has step units that are sharp in triangles leading up to a beautiful library covered in tasteful bric-n-brac. Behind this is a massive towering bookcase.
Paul Gordon’s score is an eclectic collection of songs, mostly ballads. There is a faint hint of Sondheim in a couple of the songs. But there is soft pop, modern Broadway ballad, and even country. The score could use some editing in both acts, especially in Act One. Nonetheless there are plenty of songs that soared into the gold covered ceilings of the Majestic theater. Including Who Is This Man, She Thinks I’m Old, Things I Didn’t Know, The color of Your Eyes, The Man I’ll Never Be, All This Time, and Charity.
Samantha McHenry and Christopher J. Deaton deliver resplendent performances. Both display not a hint of modernism behavior. Their body posture, diction, and mannerisms stay firmly in 1912. Their arc to their chemistry is extremely believable that just fills your heart. Both actors focus on each other’s subtext within the lyrics thus allowing the audience sincerely feels their emotions. Both have luxurious singing voices. Both performers have an armful of solos, plus duets that are sprinkled throughout the evening.
McHenry has a powerful, haunting, and deeply moving monologue in Act Two in which she reveals to her Daddy Long Legs her affections for someone else. McHenry engulfs her heart within her pain that just devastates you. All alone with a lone light shining on her, she holds the audience in the palm of her hands as her eyes well up in tears.
Christopher J. Deaton delivers his best work that I have seen him do in this production. He wears his characterization like a second skin. Deaton also happens to have the best song of the entire night titled Charity. A ballad that has a country flavor, Deaton’s tenor vocals soars and glides within the song with roaring force, then subsiding to a soft falsetto. Just an exquisite solo that became the vocal highlight of the evening.
Daddy Long Legs is an intimate piece of musical theater, which is not the norm for Lyric Stage. But that’s what I so greatly admire and respect about this theater company. They will do a war horse musical, but then do a completely new musical that no one has done in the Metroplex. That is the ONLY way you can make your audiences and season subscribers grow, to show them new, fresh, unique musicals. I never would have seen Daddy Long Legs had Lyric Stage not produced it. Want to stretch your artistic minds? Then I strongly suggest you catch Lyric Stage’s Daddy Long Legs before it closes this Sunday!
Tickets to Daddy Long Legs can be purchased at http://lyricstage.org/wp/buy- tickets/buy-tickets/ or by calling 972-252-2787. The Majestic Theatre is located in Downtown Dallas at 1925 Elm St. Dallas, TX 75201