Daddy Long Legs

Daddy Long Legs

The story of “Daddy Long Legs” has been around for a century. Jean Webster’s contemorary novel first hit the shelves in 1912. A hundred years later to the year “Daddy Long Legs” the musical premièred at the Saint Louis Repertory Theater. Anne and I saw it last night and loved it.

This two actor show tells the story of Jerusha (Judy) Abbott (played by Ephie Aardema) the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home. She is plucked from obscurity by a mysterious benefactor, a self-described John Smith. Smith will pay for her college education under the stipulation that she write him a letter each month, telling him how she is doing. Sort of sounds like contract blogging. He will never respond to her letters and she will never know who he is. In the home, Jerusha catches a glimpse of the shadow of her benefactor from the back, and knows he is a tall long-legged man. She jokingly takes to calling him Daddy-Long-Legs.

Jervis Pendleton (played by Kevin Earley) is the young man who is her secret benefactor. Daddy-Long-Legs is neither elderly nor bald, as Jerusha imagines. Reading her witty letters month after month Jervis grows fond of the girl. He decides to meet her not as Daddy-Long-Legs, but as himself, never revealing his secret identity. His duplicity becomes the central tension of this show.

Jean Webster wrote an epistolary novel and this convention is preserved in the musical adaptation. Jerusha’s letters are read aloud and also sung by both characters. Webster couched her tale in the form of a love story, but her real narrative was that of a young woman who discovers the world, loves what she finds and learns to find her place in it.

Almost since its inception, “Daddy Long Legs” has been adapted to movies and now theater. “Daddy Long Legs” films include, in 1919 (Mary Pickford), 1931 (Janet Gaynor and Warner Baxter), 1935 (Shirley Temple) and 1955 (Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron). I’ve read, or rather have tried to read epistolary novels in the past. I’ve been left with the experience of reading somebody else’s junk mail. The live-action of musical theater really brought this literary art form to life. As I’ve said before, we really enjoyed this show.

Before the show, we had dinner at CJ Muggs. Annie’s parents were seated at the table next to ours. We compared notes on our LA artist children and then talked politics. Both topics were quite mutually agreeable to us all.

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