With memories of Fred astaire and Leslie Caron dancing in my head, I must admit that I was more than pleasantly surprised by the Phoenix Theater The company’s production of LONG LEG DADS (which opened on June 23 and ends on July 18). So much so that I have to ask all comers to put aside the footage from the 1955 Hollywood musical in favor of the uplifting book of Jean Caird which is more faithful to its source than the film.
Following a pattern of adaptations for which he has become famous (notably Wretched, Nickleby nickleby, and Peter Pan), Caird, Honorary Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, revisits Jean Webster1912 novel about an orphan and her anonymous benefactor.
Complemented by evocative music and lyrics from nominee Tony Paul Gordon, the result (which premiered in 2009) is a story that uplifts the spirits and ultimately pulls the chords away. Now, in the hands of director Robert Kolby Harper, it’s sure to be one of the season’s most memorable and beloved hits.
This must be the case because of the quite charming performances of its two protagonists. Kathlynn rodin and James D. Gish radiate equal parts charisma and vitality in a story full of idealism, optimism and romance. Their rich and melodious voices alternate in harmony as Jerusha’s letters are written and read.
Rodin is enchanting and embracing like the fiery and curious romantic; Gish, captivating and endearing as a clumsy and vulnerable bachelor practically intoxicated with the infectious energy of Jerusha. (Special quote: powerful and moving rendition of the song by Gish Charity lifts the roof beams.)
The arc revolves over the four years of a one-way correspondence between the orphan turned collegiate Jerusha Abbott (Rodin) and the man who chose her among all the orphans of the John Grier house to be the beneficiary of her stock Exchange. .and that she chose to call Papa Long Legs.
Jerusha bursts into enlightenment, savoring texts that open wide the portals of the arts and humanities, natural sciences and mathematics. Faithful to the sole condition of the generous subsidy of her patron, she records the details of her discoveries letter by letter. (He told her that he would never answer the same.) As time goes on, she becomes more and more curious about Mr. Smith to whom she writes.
Mr. Smith is in fact Jervis Pendleton (Gish), the descendant of a wealthy New York family, who, intrigued by the intellect, spirit and spirit contained in Jerusha’s letters, arrives on campus and introduces himself as the uncle of one of his classmates, all the better to observe him without revealing his true identity.
It is the allocation we give to fiction that the inevitable pull between the unconscious Jerusha and the poser can be held to be credible. The complications that arise from this flourishing relationship and Jervis’ efforts to conceal his true identity will, of course, be resolved to everyone’s relief. It is by arriving at this moment of revelation that the pleasure of the spectacle reaches its climax.
There are elements of this show that deserve special mention because in all respects this LONG LEG DADS embodies the definition of a complete manufacturing: The range of artistry and variety in Connie Furr’s exquisite designs for Jerusha’s wardrobe. Aaron JacksonIt’s beautiful set, separating the modest quarters of Jerusha from the richly appointed mahogany desk of Jervis. The artfully placed tree that hovers above Jervis’ home, its branches bearing letters rather than leaves. The giant parchment board, in the center of the stage, on which the partial lines of Jerusha’s letters are engraved and colorful splashes of the surroundings are projected. All together, seamless and inspired.
LONG LEG DADDY! What a refreshing and uplifting way ~ necessarily after too long a absence from live theater ~ to kick off a new season with a story that taps into the rare gems of what it means to be magnificent.
Randi Ellen Rudolph ~ Music Director, Piano
Stephan McLaughlin ~ Accessories Coordinator
Josh Lutton ~ Wig Designer
Ashton Michael Corey ~ Lighting designer
Ryan Peavey ~ Sound Designer
Dallas Nichols ~ Video Designer
Karla Frederick ~ Production Manager
Photo credit to Reg Madison Photography