“Daddy Long Legs” Charms Despite Needing A Bit Of A Trim

Kevin Earley and Ephie Aardema delight as Jervis and Jerusha in the Rep’s production of “Daddy Long Legs.” Photo provided by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

A two character musical really needs to be short and to the point. At the world premiere presentation at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, “Daddy Long Legs” charmed the crowd but could benefit from a trim to the song laden score. Returning to the original source material, the Jean Webster novel, it benefits from the two person cast instead of the lavish versions we’ve seen in the past including the famous Fred Astaire movie musical and even the Shirley Temple vehicle, “Curly Top.”  However, the two acts- even though they are both under an hour- seems a bit lengthy for these two talented performers to carry. A 90-minute or less one-act would have worked much better.

Veteran John Caird wrote the book and directed this production. He has captured the charm and innocence of this story as an anonymous benefactor reaches out to a poor but potentially brilliant orphan to further her education in the early years of 20th century England. His hopes are to see her blossom into a writer but, of course, his infatuation with her mandatory letters of update on her progress leads him to force his “dream” on hers. Her social life, therefore, takes a hit as he forbids her association with friends and potential suitors who he thinks will interfere with his plans for her. Though she thinks her benefactor is an older man, the audience knows from the beginning that these two young people are meant for each other.

Ephie Aardema is sweet and lovely as the young orphan, Jerusha Abbott. Her lilting voice and charming innocence are perfect for the lovely score. As her benefactor, Jervis Pendleton (Mr. John Smith to her), Kevin Earley is rock solid. The two work beautifully together and create a larger than life story out of these two powerfully written characters.

Sharing correspondence in song, Ephie Aardema and Kevin Earley charm the audience in the Rep’s World Premiere production of “Daddy Long Legs.” Photo credited to the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

The music and lyrics of Paul Gordon are appropriate for the setting and ring true and set the tone much in the way “The Secret Garden” did. In fact, they both contain similar themes in this scores’ song, “The Color Of Your Eyes” and the dramatic “Lily’s Eyes” from the Lucy Simon/Marsha Norman score.  The only jolting exception is the inexplicable country twang of “Charity” in the second act. Where did that come from? But again, with the two characters, the over-loaded score could use a trim with so many repetitive themes and similar melodies.

The design team continues to dazzle as the David Farley set and costumes are memorable and highly efficient. Paul Toben’s lights enhance the story and the great musicians, led by Julie McBride, are right on the mark. In fact, it’s great that two smaller cast musicals in town right now- this one and Stray Dog’s “Spring Awakening”- are both fleshed out with additional strings in addition to the traditional bass, keyboards and percussion.

It is wonderful to see the Rep continue to introduce new works- especially new musicals- in our town. The rousing welcome “Daddy Long Legs” received on opening night is an indication that it will surely go places and earn multiple accolades. It’s a powerful and charming work that will capture your heart. Go see it between now and closing night on November 4th. Contact the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis at 314-968-4925 or at http://www.repstl.org for tickets or more information.

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