Based on the 1912 novel by Jean Webster, Daddy Long Legs is a sweet ode to turn-of-the-century love. This 2009 play, with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and book by John Caird, is now on stage at Pittsburgh Public Theater. Under the direction of the Public’s producing artistic director, Ted Pappas, the production is a jaunty good time, with a two-person cast that is truly exceptional.
Danielle Bowen makes a charming Jerusha, “the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home,” who aspires to greater things than the dredges the world has given her so far. Enter Jervis (Allan Snyder), the wealthy young trustee who offers to fund Jerusha’s college education on the condition that she write him regular letters, though he will never write back. She is unaware of his identity, other than having seen his long-legged silhouette briefly outside her window (hence, the eponymous nickname). Together, the two actors make the most of the two-hour-plus running time. They can belt out the highly charged emotional numbers, but they play the quieter moments with equal aplomb.
Early on, it becomes apparent that the couple is more than well matched — they both enjoy literature, socialism and long walks out of doors (yes, their compatibility reads rather like a post-modern dating profile). So what’s the problem? Not a whole lot, to be honest. Never having met him, Jerusha thinks Jervis is older than he really is, and he feels as if he should have been honest with her earlier. Not exactly the biggest obstacles for romance. Consequently, it becomes the story’s primary driving force to contrive ways to keep the two apart. Mostly, the trouble comes from Jervis’ unwillingness to simply come clean with Jerusha; one letter, albeit an awkward one, would solve all the problems between them.
However, when it comes to the trappings of light-hearted romance, his reticence is all part of the fun. After all, it wouldn’t be much of a story if they found love in the first act. And with a cast this good and production design that’s more than up to the task, Daddy Long Legs is a highly enjoyable way to spend an evening.