Daddy Long Legs

Daddy Long Legs
Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon
Book by John Caird
Based on a novel by Jean Webster
Directed by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL

This is NOT the Fred Astaire Musical from 1955, nor any of the other six similar sounding listings in IMDB. But it IS based on the 1912 Jean Webster novel most of those projects draw upon. Meet Jervis Pendleton (Larry Alexander); he has a kind heart but little close family. As compensation, he selects deserving orphans and sends them to college, all expenses paid. His choice this season is Jerusha “Judy” Abbott (Hannah Laird), the oldest orphan at the John Grier Home. I checked out Mr. Greir; he was a sharp shooter in the 1924 Olympics. Thus, he’s merely a literary device as this story begins in 1908. Pendleton pays full tuition, room and board and $30 a month for incidentals, a real fortune back then. The only catch? The recipient must write him a letter once a month, and never know his identity. But writing into the empty ozone is tough, so she chooses to call him “Daddy Long Legs.” Ooooookay…creepy…

But not creepy here, despite the odd premise this is a sweet love story with a happy ending. Jervis follows the letters, gradually grows to love Judy as he courts her through the odd method of never speaking to her. Judy grows up in college; new topics like Latin and romantic poems fill her mind. By her sophomore year she lords over the freshies, and she meets people with real money and fake personality. Eventually, Jervis approaches her under an assumed name, and this being Winter Park Playhouse, love is soon in the air.

There’s more plot here than a typical WPPH Main Stage show, and the house band is supplanted by a cellist. Tonight, songs like “The Color of Your Eyes” and “The Man I’ll Never Be” guide us along as we examine the social dynamics of the ultra-wealthy as they intersect with the nouveau semi-riche. The settings described are truly idyllic: a college program focused on the classics with no student debt looming, farms full of frolicking animals, and trips to Paris and Manhattan. Garnishing the entrée, we hear some radical commentary on how orphanages ought to be run. The romance is no easy path; Pendleton’s duplicitous actions are highlighted when Judy complains about Jervis’s actions to her supposed benefactor and pointing up his evil guyness. But love heals all, and even a jaded critic can shed a tear for this couple.

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