Daddy Long Legs is the stage version of the essay writer classic novel by Jean Webster, made famous to movie lovers in the more traditional 1955 Fred Astaire, Leslie Caron musical.
Jerusha, played by Ephie Aardema, is an orphan living in the John Grier Asylum in 1909 when she is selected by one of the board members to be his protégé. He will educate and support her anonymously and she in turn will write to him every month detailing her life and education. He, however, will not respond in any way except occasionally through his “secretary”.
Her benefactor, one Jervis Pendalton, is played by Webster Conservatory graduate Kevin Early. Pendalton cannot resist the irrepressible Jerusha, whose wit and personality leak through the pages of her letters. The bulk of the play is a reading of Jerusha’s letters to him over a four year period, done in dialogue and in song.
It’s a romantic story, of course. Predictable yes, but with that turn-of-the-century charm that I found irresistible. We know Jerusha and Jervis will end up together, but watching them get there is fun.
Both Ephie Aardema and Kevin Early are exceptional in their roles. They are never, ever offstage except during intermission, and then only for fifteen minutes. That kind of performance is exhausting but neither actor lost their energy or charm.
The music of Paul Gordon is full of seemingly dissonant chords and some of the closest harmonies I’ve ever heard; you couldn’t fit a piece of tissue paper between them. Aardema and Early make them sound as natural as breathing.
I admit, it took me a while to cast off images of Fred and Leslie and 1955, but once I settled in, I thoroughly enjoyed this unique treatment of an old favorite.