By Daniel Skora
It’s neither a stage version of the 1955 musical film with which it shares a title, nor a Kafka-esque drama about those spindly-legged creatures that take up residence high up in the corners of undusted rooms. “Daddy Long Legs”, the romantic musical currently being presented by The Dio does, however, share a common parentage with that film, both having been based on a 1912 novel by Jean Webster, and a kind of symbolic relationship with the aforementioned arachnids.
Jerusha Abbott (Emily Hadick) is the oldest resident at the John Gier Home for orphans. She’s just turned 18 and though she entertains thoughts of entering college in the fall, she has neither the necessary financial resources nor the family she would need for moral support. But she’s intelligent and well-spoken and one of the essays she’s written has caught the attention of a member of a prominent family who serves as a trustee for the orphanage. Jervis Pendleton (Alexander Benoit) has a habit of each year selecting one orphan who displays both the talent and the character to receive a fully paid tuition grant to a four year college. This year, on the basis of her essay, that scholarship has been awarded to Jerusha. She only has to agree to several conditions, which include: she will never know the name of the person who is her benefactor; she must write a letter once a month telling how she is doing at school; and she will never receive any correspondence from the person who is paying her tuition.
And so begins a kind of one-way version of “Love Letters”, that theatrical favorite which has two people with strong emotional ties exchanging letters over the course of many years. Here, the difference is that the letters are sung as well as read, one-sided of course, since Jerusha doesn’t know who she’s writing to, and with the love part of the relationship slow in coming.
Jerusha is a polite, inquisitive, and determined young woman. One of her first letters to her benefactor serves to thank him for his generosity. But she’s unsure as how to address him, having only seen him from behind on one occasion. That glimpse was of a rather tall man in a bowler hat that gave Jerusha the impression of an older man with long legs. As a result, every letter she sends him gets addressed as Daddy Long Legs.
The play goes on to cover the four years of Jerusha’s schooling and her relationship with the man she knows only through the correspondence directed to her through the school. During those four years, we see Jerusha mature from a person with the insular background that comes with growing up in the sheltered existence of an orphanage, to a young woman with self-assuredness and sophistication. What never changes, though, is the spunk and the charm of her personality
Hadick and Benoit are, for the biggest part of the play, onstage together. Their person-to-person interaction is infrequent, however. Pendleton spends much of his time reading Jerusha’s letters ensconced in his office which is situated in a raised area towards the back of the stage. Jerusha/Hadick pretty much has the whole front of the stage to call her own.
Benoit is solid as Pendleton, but this is Jerusha’s play and Hadick knocks it out of the park. She has the heartwarming personality, the stage presence, and the crisp, clear vocals that should you ever cross paths with this play again, she will have established herself in your mind as the standard against which all other Jerushas will be judged.
“Daddy Long Legs” is one of those plays where you spend the entire show rooting for the heroine and enjoying every minute of it. See it for a wonderfully satisfying evening of theatre.
Music and lyrics for “Daddy Long Legs” are by Paul Gordon; book is by John Caird. In addition to the memorable and highly entertaining play, the Dio’s menu for this production features their Signature Fried chicken, braised beef in burgundy, accompanied by the always delicious embellishments of garden salad, vegetable au Gratin potato, and breadsticks.
“Daddy Long Legs” is directed by Steve DeBruyne with assistance from Anne Bauman. Music direction is by Brian Rose. Set, lighting, and sound design are by Matt Tomich, costume design by Norma Polk, and props come courtesy of Eileen Obradovich. The show runs through May 20th. For tickets and information, call the Dio at 1.517.672.6009 or go online at www.diotheatre.com. The Dio Dining and Entertainment is located at 177 E. Main Street in downtown Pinckney.