Monumental Theatre Co. continues its 2019 season with “Daddy Long Legs”, a tender story of letters, literature, and love.
“Daddy Long Legs” is not a large musical. Two actors constitute the entire cast, narrating almost entirely through a folksy score from the team behind the musical adaptation of “Jane Eyre.” Premiering around the country in 2009, the little-known story is based on Jean Webster’s children’s novel of the same name, which shares themes with the works of Louisa May Alcott and L.M. Montgomery. Both the book and the musical are told in epistolary form, a series of letters between Jerusha and Jervis.
The plot centers around Jerusha Abbott, the oldest orphan at the John Grier Home, who nurses her talent for writing while longing to escape her dull, onerous life at the orphanage. Enchanted by her humorous essays, a mysterious benefactor offers to pay her tuition at an elite women’s college in exchange for one letter of acknowledgment per month. As Jerusha experiences the world for the first time, she writes to her mysterious “Daddy Long Legs,” a name she gives to her sponsor after a faint glimpse of his tall stature. But she does not realize that the benefactor who is old, gray, and bald in her mind is actually Jervis Pendleton, the young uncle of her friend, who is gradually falling in love with her through her letters.
Direction by Michael Windsor brings a story with a close-to-problematic premise (Jervis’s ethically questionable actions resolve a little too neatly for modern tastes) into the 21st century through a genuine sense of wonder that permeates every moment. For the majority of the show, Jerusha and Jervis are separated by a floor covered in letters, singing from their respective desks at each side of the aisle-style stage. When the two correspondents finally meet face to face, looking into each other’s’ eyes for the first time, it is with an outpouring of cathartic, genuine joy
“…a genuine sense of wonder permeates every moment.”
Caroline Wolfson’s Jerusha is a revelation; with all of Jo March’s imagination, Anne Shirley’s spunk, and humor all her own, Wolfson is the heroine young girls dream of becoming. Her expressive voice, full of hope, is perfectly suited to the extensive score, played on a keyboard, guitar, and cello for a grounded, contemporary feel. Wolfson is satisfyingly headstrong against Kurt Boehm’s reserved, yet sometimes obstinate Jervis. Boehm’s soaring vocals contrast his mild manners in songs like “Charity,” when he begins to realize the unexpected consequences of his correspondence with Jerusha. The duo of Wolfson and Boehm elevate the story beyond its source material, complicating the arc of the two characters and truly bringing the audience into their intertwining lives and letters.
It is rare that a story can so truly and unexpectedly warm your heart. But “Daddy Long Legs,” strange as it might seem, is a fleeting moment of sincere connection in a busy world. Thanks to evocative performances by Wolfson and Boehm, “Daddy Long Legs” is not to be missed.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one fifteen-minute intermission.
“Daddy Long Legs” runs through March 30th at the Ainslie Arts Center, 3900 West Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA 22302. Buy tickets online here.