An adorable musical for two performers, Daddy Long Legs started life as a children’s book (written by Jean Webster, 1912) and has been filmed at least four times in Hollywood’s Golden Age (first for Mary Pickford in 1919).
The story was first made into a musical in 1952 as Love From Judy, and a film vehicle for Fred Astaire (with different songs) followed in 1955. In its depiction of a downtrodden character given hope by a kind of fairy godfather it harks back to traditional folk tales.
This musical version, a record of the 2018 Irish premiere, is by Paul Gordon (music and lyrics), with book by John Caird, and dates from 2009, when it played off-Broadway. It boasts a rich score with recurring motifs and themes.
Jerusha Abbott is an orphan, left at seventeen in a life of drudgery in the only institution she has ever known. A mysterious benefactor, “Mr Smith” funds her education and encourages her to improve her imagination and literary skill by writing regularly to him.
Unbeknownst to Jerusha, but revealed to the audience early on, is the fact that Mr Smith, who she nicknames ‘Daddy Long Legs’, is a young and handsome man called Jervis Pendleton. The scene is set for confusion and cakamity relating to growing up and matters of the heart.
Róisín Sullivan effortlessly convinces as her character develops from the shy, awkward teenager at the start of the show to the confident woman finding her way in the world by the end. Her singing voice is beautiful and her vocal inflection during the letters is playful.
As Jervis, Eoin Cannon is both debonair and a bit unsure, as befits the character of one man impersonating another. He gives the situation a steer away from what can sometimes appear a “sugar daddy’ or transactional situation; instead you root for both Jervis and Jerusha to get together.
Killian Collins and Mark O’Looney direct this rather whimsical two-hander, in which the performers share the stage throughout but rarely meet. They build a warmth and familiar chemistry between the pair of orphan and benefactor as the musical progresses.
The set and lighting design (Wayne Handy and Tomas Fitzgerald, respectively) help transform stage corners into comfortable offices, farmland, hideaways, and more; while costumes from the Abbey Theatre assist the visual development of Jerusha in particular as she gains poise and style over the years.
It is hard to sustain the interest of an audience through a two hour running time when characters are together, yet apart. Daddy Long Legs wins through on the strength of its writing and in the professional quality of its filming.
You can now book your ticket to see this show for yourself between 8-14 Marcb on stream.theatre.
Images are screencaps from the stream, with the exception of the header.
LouReviews received complimentary access to review Daddy Long Legs.