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St. Louis by Richard Green

Daddy Long Legs
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Also see Richard's review of Lost in Yonkers

Daddy Long Legs
Ephie Aardema and
Kevin Earley

This may come as a surprise but, in this charming new musical, it takes two hours for the official "boy meets girl" scene to finally roll around. By the director of Les Miserables and Nicholas Nickleby, and the creators of Jane Eyre, this two-person play still manages to twinkle like a lovely little gem.

The story is, almost exclusively, epistolary—as two likable young people correspond back and forth, though (generally) just one of them is required to mail her letters (to him). There are a lot of heartwarming laughs, but it's a little exasperating because the pair almost never cross paths in front of our eyes. As far as romance goes, it's a lot like kissing through a screen door.

In spite of that, it works nicely, with lots of pleasant humor and earnest, heartfelt characterizations—although the gentle, sweet music (by Paul Gordon) lacks any particular variety. The most wonderful night of the girl's life, we are told, was spent in a theater with the young man who (of course) turns out to be her pen pal—but there's no theatrical song of the day for her to sing that breaks up the endless march of sweet and yearning melodies Mr. Gordon specializes in. Nor is there any song to help paint a picture of her well-to-do roommates at college (for instance) which would likewise offer contrast.

Ephie Aardema and Kevin Earley are the girl and boy: she's an orphan and he's her secret benefactor, after he happens to see a humorous essay she's written as a teenager. Like Dickens' Great Expectations, she's forbidden to find out anything about him, and a lot of nice humor is mined from her misconceptions along the way. Writer and director John Caird keeps both cast members fresh and subtle, in the play based on Jean Webster's 1912 novel.

Ms. Aardema is lovable and sings beautifully, and Mr. Earley is whimsical and increasingly, comically frustrated as he wrestles with her changes growing up, and growing wiser. It all seemed especially appealing to the women in the audience, as his attempts to keep her from other boys, or draw her closer to him, are frequently foiled along the way. She, too, suffers some setbacks in claiming her independence, which also makes for good storytelling.

So there is, of course, a lot of good relationship humor, which may make this a terrific "first date" play—but it seems to stretch on a bit, in the later scenes. The most dramatic moment at the first Sunday's matinee (to me, as a man, anyway) was when Mr. Earley nearly tripped on a step coming down a platform. You can also amuse yourself with the religious overtones, of a mortal praying to her god-like benefactor and never quite getting the essence of him right, as we wait for the ultimate resolution to their situation.

An amusing, tidy little love story, with a plucky young lady who loves to read and learn, and is full of earnest aspirations, and a boy who finds himself with both more and less power than he'd like.

Through November 14, 2012, at the Browning main-stage of the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Rd., Webster Groves, MO. For more information, www.repstl.org or call (314) 968-4925.

Cast
Jerusha Abbott: Ephie Aardema
Jervis Pendleton: Kevin Earley

Musicians
Keyboard/Conductor: Julie McBride
Bass: Bill Lenihan
Cello: Marcia Mann
Guitar: Steve Schenkel
Percussion: Alan Schilling
Violin: Adrian Walker

Crew
Director: John Caird
Musical Director: Julie McBride
Musical Supervision: Brad Haak
Orchestrations: Brad Haak and Paul Gordon
Associate Director: Christina M. Burck
Scenic and Costume Designer: David Farley
Lighting Designer: Paul Toben
Lighting Adapted by: Cory Pattak
Casting: Tara Rubin Casting
Additional Arrangements: Laura Bergquist
Stage Manager: Glenn Dunn
Assistant Stage Manager: Tony Dearing


Photo: Luis Escobar/PCPA Theaterfest


-- Richard T. Green

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