By Nancy Churnin~
In the 100th anniversary year of when women across the United States were first able to vote, Firehouse Theatre’s production of the musical Daddy Long Legs offers an affectionate and romantic look at the way we were in a socially distanced two-actor format that provides an uncanny fit for the needs of theaters today.
John Caird’s book, adapted from the 1912 novel by Jean Webster, gives us the spirited Jerusha, an orphan, who receives a letter from an anonymous benefactor that promises to pay her way through college so she can become a writer.
It would be easy to get caught up in tsk-tsking about this mysterious man coming to the rescue of the fair maiden, but this story transcends that trope. Under Derek Whitener’s smart direction, Caitlin Jones’ Jerusha is no one’s damsel in distress. She is thankful, yes, for her opportunity, but this strong-minded, determined woman never stops wanting to know more about the generous donor and how, ultimately, she can repay the gift and be a benefactor herself.
Similarly, Preston Isham’s Jervis shows that he has a lot to learn about giving and the power of people to surprise. Jerusha, who writes to him as Daddy Long Legs — unaware of his identity — challenges him at every turn to rethink what he thinks he knows about books and people.
It helps that Isham and Jones, a couple in real life, have an undeniable chemistry and that the audience roots for them from the start.
There’s a long tradition of couples that get to know and care for each other through writing, most notably in the 1963 musical She Loves Me, adapted from the 1937 Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklós László. But there’s also a hint of the Jo March and Professor Bhaer romance for even those two met — they don’t truly connect until he reads her words.
In a world that is all too often preoccupied with how people look, it’s refreshing to take a step back into one where the essential is invisible to the eyes, and instead focuses on what people believe and hope.
In times where too many teeter on the verge of exploding at differences of opinion, it’s uplifting to walk into a world where arguments about feminism and other matters lead to enlightenment rather than enmity.
Firehouse Theatre, one of our community’s smallest professional theaters, is to be commended, too, for persevering in finding a way to bring theater to a community that needs the way theater builds empathy and connection more than ever. Whitener’s direction brings the audience into the action as if we all have the best seats in the house, with great views of the performers, the period costumes by Whitener and the simple, effective set by Whitener and Studio 147.
Bethany Lorentzen’s music direction is on the mark, helping the tender harmonies and ballads shine. And let’s give an extra hand to Jones and Isham, who perform in a bare theater as if they were in a full house, giving those who tune in a comforting feeling of being back in the theater again. May we all be in the real thing together, safely, soon. But until then, I’m thankful for treasures like this.
Daddy Long Legs | Music and lyrics by Paul Gordon | Book by John Caird
Adapted from the novel by Jean Webster
Firehouse Theatre streams live performances of Daddy Long Legs at the Firehouse Theatre
Where: Your Computer, Tablet, or Smartphone
When: Through Sunday, Oct. 11
Web: LEARN MORE