With there being so much negativity in the world these days, it's nice to see a play, especially a musical, that has such a sweet disposition. Daddy Long Legs (book by John Caird with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon) is just such a production, telling a good story with a fine score, and doing so without any of the ranting and raving we've come to expect from so many modern musicals. The Rep's presentation is splendidly staged and performed, and leaves its audience with a decidedly positive vibe.
Jerusha Abbott, as the first song announces, is the oldest orphan in the John Grier home, but all that changes when a mysterious benefactor pays her way to attend college. She's instructed to send regular letters to him, and she refers to him as “Daddy Long Legs”, since she's never told his real name. The only catch is that he doesn't write back, so she's left to ponder his anonymity. In the process she conjures up visions of an octogenarian who may or may not be gray haired or bald for all she knows. Of course, he's none of these things, he's young Jervis Pendleton, who hails from a rich family, but regularly sponsors students financially. Naturally, a bond develops between the pair, especially when Jervis begins to show up on a fairly regular basis, while maintaining his rouse. The question is, will true love develop between them once the jig is up and she finds out the truth.
Ephie Aardema does nice work as Jerusha, and you feel for her in her frustration to find out the facts behind her benefactor. Aardema has a lovely voice as well, and does a fine job with the lilting and complementary score. She's well matched with Kevin Earley, who's also stymied by his own restricting rules, and who works out surreptitious ways to meet the girl he's slowly falling for through her literate and literary correspondence. He also displays a voice that blends effortlessly with Aardema. Together they make a fine pair that you find yourself rooting for.
John Caird's direction keeps the action flowing smoothly throughout, and that's no mean feat since the action plays out on a stage that houses both characters. David Farley's scenic design neatly creates a library space for Jervis, and an area filled with trunks (each possessing important props) for Jerusha. He also creates the lovely period costumes, and projections which fill the windows with the visions of the various locales where the action plays out. Paul Toben's lighting (adapted by Cory Pattack) keeps everything in focus and consistently draws our attention to the necessary details.
The music is played at a precise level that allows the actors to project the lyrics clearly and distinctly. Julie McBride does a wonderful job as conductor/pianist, and she's aided in her efforts by Bill Lenihan (bass), Marcia Mann (cello), Steven Schenkel (guitar), Alan Schilling (percussion), and Adrian Walker (violin).
The Rep's St. Louis premiere of Daddy Long Legs is very well done, and leaves the audience greatly entertained and amused. This terrific production continues through November 4, 2012.