Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Daddy Long Legs
Florida Studio Theatre

Penny McNamee and Kevin Earley
Florida Studio Theatre is currently offering the Florida premiere of Daddy Long Legs, a chamber musical by Paul Gordon, book and direction John Caird, from the 1910s novel by Jean Webster. The only familiarity I had with this material was the 1955 Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron musical which has only the slightest connection to the book, the basic plot outline of a rich benefactor fostering the college education of an orphan girl. In all versions the orphan does not know the identity of her patron and, imagining him older and having seen only his shadow, addresses letters to him as Daddy Long Legs. The current version strips the story down to its essentials, the emotional ride of Jerusha Abbott and Jervis Pendleton as they become emotionally bonded. The story is quite involving, toward the end I wiped tears away.

The story is advanced through a series of letters from Jerusha to her "Daddy Long Legs" and his reactions to them. The lyrics of the songs are very effective, save for a couple of instances of extended rhyme patters that call undue attention to themselves. The music on the other hand lacks strong melodic profile; for example, "The Secret of Happiness" which should be a highlight refuses to take wing and soar. In the second act when Jervis launched into his major number "I Couldn't Know Someone Less" I had a momentary wish that he would sing "Tonight at Eight" from She Loves Me. Unfortunately, I feel the same way about Mr. Gordon's score for Jane Eyre, known only from the original cast CD. The storytelling here seems effective but the individual songs are not memorable. I find myself making a comparison to the score for another musical that male lead Kevin Early was involved with, Death Takes a Holiday, music by Maury Yeston, also known only from the CD. I find myself returning to play this CD over and over. I don't think I would be interested in owning the cast recording of Daddy Long Legs.

This is a co-production with Rubicon Theater Company, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, The Gem Theater, Northlight Theatre, Skylight Music Theatre, Theatreworks, David Elzer and Executive Producer Michael Jackowitz. It is directed by John Caird, who gets excellent performances from both principals. There is a reason that Mr. Caird is a world famous director with musicals such as Les Misérables, plays (The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby) and opera on his resume.

Penny McNamee as Jerusha is a delight! I absolutely believed her as a 17- or 18-year-old girl, the oldest at her orphanage, even though I think the actress' driver's license would show her to be 10 years or so older. In the first act she grows from little girl to young lady and then in the second act to assured young lady—a vivid performance. Kevin Early as Jervis is dashing if not exactly a self-assured man. His character also grows in maturity and confidence over the course of the show. Both sing strongly with well trained voices that might be heard to better advantage without head mikes. One thing that struck me was how beautifully in tune they were with each other.

Daddy Long Legs plays on a detailed set by David Farley, mostly representing Jervis' book-lined office, with a downstage open playing area for Jerusha's story. Lots of trunks and suitcases are used to effectively advance the drama. The costumes, also by Mr. Farley, help the audience visualize the characters' growth. Musical direction by Corinne Aquilina is excellent, aided by Tony Bruno on drums, Anton Cutajar on violin, and Gonca Huff on cello. The entire production is an exciting theatrical experience from start to finish.

Florida Studio Theatre presents Daddy Long Legs, through April 5 at the Gompertz Theater 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at (941) 366-9000 or visit

Cast: Jervis Pendleton: Kevin Early*
Jerusha Abbott: Penny McNamee*
* Member of Actors' Equity Association

Director: John Caird
Musical Direction: Corinne Aquilina
Music Supervision and Orchestrations: Brad Haak
Scenic and Costume Designer: David Farley
Original Lighting Designer: Paul Toben
Lighting Designer: Cory Pattak
Sound Designer: Ryan Kilcourse
Production Manager: Christina M. Burck
Production Stage Manager: Kelli Karen*

Manager--Christina M. Burck
Production Stage Manager--Kelli Karen*

Photo: Luis Escobar, Reflections Photography Studio

--William S. Oser

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