'Daddy Long Legs'

Ben Miles

“Daddy Long “Daddy Long Legs” is a 1912 novel written by Jean Webster. It was loosely interpreted and made into a 1955 film as a star vehicle for Fred Astaire. In 2007, it was developed as a stage musical by the Ann Deal/Fashion Forms Plays-in-Progress Series at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, California and made its debut there in 2009.

With a book by John Caird and music and lyrics Paul Gordon, “Daddy” has enjoyed regional and international success, as well as a staging Off Broadway at the Davenport Theatre in 2015. Now the musical is on the boards at Long Beach’s International City Theatre, through March 11.

Ably directed by Mary Jo DuPrey — but with indispensable musical direction by Bill Wolfe (who also lends live music to this “sung-through” musical by playing the piano, accompanied by Blake Baldwin on guitar and Daniel Smith’s moody cello sounds) — this “Daddy Long Legs” is a two-character love story that suggests how love between two people may evolve and grow. Jerusha Abbott has grown up, as her opening solo number, “Oldest Orphan,” reveals, in an orphanage called the John Grier Home (Ashley Ruth Jones embodies this wry and clever character physically, musically and psychologically).

Jerusha has a way with the written word, and through her sardonic essays about life in an orphanage catches the attention of a wealthy trustee of the orphanage, Jervis Pendleton (portrayed by the agile and vocally enchanting Dino Nicandros); he becomes her mysterious benefactor so long as she adheres to a nine-point plan he’s devised for furthering Jerusha’s education. Though Jerusha hasn’t actually seen Jervis Pendleton, she has assigned him the sobriquet, Daddy Long Legs, based on glimpsing the spider-like shadow he casts in the headlights of his automobile.

In two acts, with over two dozen songs — ranging from Jerusha’s solo “Who Is This Man?” to Jervis’s “The Man I’ll Never Be” to the telling “All This Time” — this unique love story unfolds in two hours time on an accommodating set designed by Ellen Lenbergs and with detailed turn-of-the-century costuming by Kim DeShazo. Appropriately underscored by Donna Ruzika’s lightening design and an iffy sound design by Dave Mickey (there was one uncomfortable sound outage during the performance reviewed) this musical’s conceit is conveyed primarily through the exchange of mailed letters (the meaningful missives are sung) by the characters. It’s an uncanny notion that requires the close attention of audience members.

“Daddy Long Legs” continues at Long Beach’s International City Theatre through March 11. ICT is located at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center — 330 East Seaside Way. Evening performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. For reservations, call (562) 436-4610. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.InternationalCityTheatre.org.




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