by Terrance Mc Arthur
How intimate can a love story be?
Turn it into a musical?
There was I Do! I Do! in the 60s, and then there was the off-Broadway Daddy Long Legs, and a Good Company Players production of Daddy Long Legs is onstage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater through September 12.
Daddy Long Legs? Isn’t that a bug? What is this? A spider’s-eye version of Cats?
No, it’s based on a 1912 novel by Jean Webster (dramatized in 1914, and made into a Fred Astaire-Leslie Caron movie musical in the 50s). The version that did well Off-Broadway featured songs by Paul Gordon and a script by John Caird.
Jerusha Abbott (Meg Clark) is released from an oppressive orphanage to go to college to become a writer, her education paid by an anonymous philanthropist. A shadowy glimpse makes her call the man Daddy Long Legs, and she thinks him old, but he is actually Jervis Pendleton (Shawn Williams), a young man of wealth. To satisfy the rules of her benefactor, she writes monthly letters to him. Jervis is captivated by her spunk and vitality, and contrives for them to meet without revealing his secret.
Of course, the story and its complications are familiar, the stuff of many a Hallmark movie, but the actors, the set, and the loving production make this a magical experience.
The clarity of Clark’s voice is startling, and her warmth draws the audience in to become one with the character. Jerusha grows from a wide-eyed wonder at her new world to a confident woman who knows she can succeed in whatever life she chooses. Clark smoothly navigates that path, showing the stages of the metamorphosis.
Williams started with GCP in the Junior Company, and now stands tall as a reliable performer, as well as serving as propmaster. The switch from the ego-driven, rock-star-styled William Shakespeare of Something Rotten to the tender Jervis, startled by his feelings for Jerusha, is one of the delights of the show.
With only two people on the stage, writing and reading letters, it might seem a blueprint for paint-drying dullness, but this is not the case. The music soars, and Clark and Williams intertwine phrases to create the illusion of a formidable ensemble. Credit director Laurie Pessano and vocal coach Judith Dickison for the amazing blend of acting and singing.
David Pierce’s set becomes the ultimate gentleman’s office of the early 1900s, a post-Victorian clutter that wraps around Jervis, while Jerusha’s world is assembled from trunks and suitcases, moved around by Williams and Clark to create mountains and what could be the world’s most uncomfortable bed. Sometimes, a case is opened to unearth a new change of clothes.
And what clothes they are! Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed strikes again, with light touches that mirror character development. Light and sound work together with subtlety in this production.
The Junior Company, taller than they were before Covid-19, present previews of coming attractions, songs from the shows that will make up GCP’s 2022 season. Two highlights: Caroline Huey and Maisie Van Vleet’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” that would make Angela Lansbury smile, and Jonathan Padilla’s body-twisting, explosive, and memorable “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” from Guys and Dolls.
Roger Rocka’s is a dinner theater, after all, and I want to give “propers” to the Vegetarian Crepes that a carnivore could love, and the Catch of the Day that will really hook you.
Daddy Long Legs will put the romance back in your soul, so hurry down to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater at 1226 N. Wishon Ave., in Fresno. Tickets can be purchased on their website or by calling the box office at (559)266-9494.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.
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