REVIEW: "Daddy Long Legs"—Inland Valley Repertory Theatre
“Dear Daddy Long Legs—you never answered my question and it was very important. ARE YOU BALD?”
Inland Valley Repertory Theatre company (IVRT) proudly presents the local regional streaming premiere of “Daddy Long Legs,” the musical, Feb 20-28, featuring Amanda Minano (Nat’l Tour: “The Little Mermaid;” “Funny Girl”) and Bobby Collins (London Symphony Orchestra - Conductor; “Gypsy”) filmed and edited by Spencer Weitzel, costumes by Theatre Company, music direction and accompaniment by Ronda Rubio, audio edited by Donna Marie Minano (Executive Director) and Brooklyn Vizcarra, assistant directed by Hope Kaufman and directed by Frank Minano. The musical benefits Camp IVRT musical theatre workshop for youth.
“Daddy Long Legs” is based on an epistolary novel from 1912 by Jean Webster that has been adapted several times, most notably by a 1955 film musical starring Leslie Caron and Fred Astaire—which is not the basis for this musical, by the way. Closer to the original novel, this “Daddy Long Legs” was co-created more than a decade ago by John Caird and Paul Gordon.
It begins as 18 year-old Jerusha Abbott (Ms. Minano) introduces herself with a disarming aria, “The Oldest Orphan in the John Grier Home.” She subsequently reveals the genesis of her self-ascribed name, Jerusha, as from a name she saw on a gravestone, and her last name, Abbott, picked from the first page of the phone book.
Notwithstanding shades of both spunky Little Orphan Annie and the more willful Jane Eyre, Jerusha is blessed with an immediately endearing air of precociousness. As such, she is not inclined to allow her present situation, as one of the older and barely tolerable orphans in residence, to prevent her from considering her options. This is revealed through her natural instinct for wit, as exemplified by the brisk and breezy libretto that remains her constant inner support. It should be interesting to note here that the musical’s collaborators, Caird and Gordon, also gave musical life to “Jane Eyre,” which opened on Broadway in 2000.
It's easy enough for anyone to immediately become smitten by Jerusha’s resolute and spirited personality, as seen through Ms. Minano’s glowing performance. But I especially liked the sound of her mellow, clear-as-a-bell soprano voice, a quality that makes her lengthy arias float gently through the air without ever becoming piercing. A sweet, very innocent aura to her demeanor was also an important aspect to her winning performance as we followed Jerusha’s often convoluted travails on her path to becoming a young woman.
At the outset, Jerusha’s talent for writing is noticed by Jervis Pendleton (Mr. Collins), a man who decides to call himself by his alias, ” John Smith,” and who is in reality one of the orphanage’s trustees.
The plot begins to bubble with his proposal to fully finance Jerusha’s education, but with one stipulation—that his identity never be disclosed. In addition, the mysterious benefactor insists on a one-sided communication by way of letters sent to him by Jerusha once a month with no expectation for a reply. (This one-sided correspondence formed the basis of the 1912 novel as well as this nearly sung-through musical.)
Gleefully, Jerusha accepts this gift, and dives headfirst into a world she has never known, boarding a train, bright-eyed and eager to experience life and learning. She soon realizes, however, that the academic and social aspects of her new life are at once often overwhelming and disappointing.
As the years pass and Jerusha matures, her curiosity about her benefactor develops into a desperate need for connection with the anonymous man. “Why couldn’t you have picked out a name with a little personality?” she protests, imagining him to be old and gray. All the while, Jerusha continues to pour her heart out through letters, telling him anything and everything, never guessing his identity, and becoming more personal each time. As the story unfolds, and as Jervis is made aware of Jerusha’s every feeling, he begins to take a more active role in steering her life, exerting tremendous control over her. “These are his orders / this is his game,” she sings. And what a game it is.
What Jerusha doesn’t know is that Daddy isn’t so geriatric after all and that the affable impertinence of her letters has made him fall in love with her. Soon, he is contriving to meet her, without ever admitting his philanthropy.
As Jerusha, Amanda Minano inhabits this character down to the smallest detail as we see her evolve from a sheltered girl into a plucky and persevering young woman. She has a rich, beautiful voice that is perfectly suited to Gordon’s emotional lyrics and evocative melodies. Among the score, “I Have Torn You From My Heart” stood out to me as one of her strongest performances. Her effortless "stage" presence embodies the classic ingenue with a balanced mix of innocence and intelligence. In the first 10 minutes, she deftly displays the breadth of her acting skills and, in Ms. Minano's hands, the audience sees “poor Jerusha Abbott” never as a victim of her circumstances again, but always as a fighter. Viewers sympathize and delight in concert with her intellectual and romantic awakenings. And her singing? Simply beautiful throughout—“I’m a Beast” and “Graduation Day” especially were moving.
Bobby Collins, as Jervis, endears himself to us. However unhinged we may be about “the color of his lies” and his admitted duplicity (“I’m ashamed of the man I’ve become”), it’s impossible not to feel affection toward his smitten, fumbling ways, especially when he’s overcome with jealousy, leading to some of the play’s most comical moments ("damn that boy Jimmy!"). Mr. Collins' beguiling, elegant performance rescues a character about whom viewers might otherwise feel put-off. His solo, “Charity,” was especially touching and undoubtedly evoked empathy from the viewing audience. By all rights, it is a complex and demanding role and Mr. Collins, with his rich, euphonious voice, rises to the occasion.
Director Frank Minano has taken this deceptively simple material and, even though challenged with confinements of a Zoom production (not to mention the current guidelines), staged it with a polished and intoxicating harmony. With only 2 actors, it makes for an extremely intimate show. Many of the same themes still resonate today. Who am I? Where do I belong? Can we ever truly know one another?
"Daddy Long Legs" is one of those stage musicals with charm to spare, and at the same time quite an unconventional and surprising love story. It also asks those big questions about life, love, and even the nature and purpose of charity. “If charity is dispensed to someone the giver truly cares for, how can it ever be enough?”
It's also unique in that all the songs are solos or duets—there’s no soaring chorus harmonies. But interestingly, your focus then must stay mainly on the lyrics and makes it much easier to hear what is being said and what that character is dealing with at the time. The actors do move obliquely with each other, and don't directly interact very often, but the positioning is always engaging and clever. Climactically, “Daddy Long Legs” does end up untangling in a letter-perfect way.
Don’t miss the upcoming Benefit Performances this weekend, February 27th at 7pm and February 28th at 2pm. Tickets are $27 and can be purchased by phone Monday through Thursday from 10am to 1pm At (909) 859-4878 Or online any time at www.IVRT.org
Season subscriptions are also available.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report