The Secret of Happiness

Written by Serena

In my previous review (Trip of Love) I couldn’t stop raving about the choreography, the set, the costumes etc. Daddy Long Legs has no dancing, one unchanging set, and minimal costume changes and yet, it was just as thoroughly captivating, if not more, then a full blown production.

This Off Broadway show is based on the 1912 novel of the same name by Jean Webster. Unlike the 1955 movie version starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron, this play doesn’t take as many creative liberties with plot and character and follows the book pretty closely. Comprised entirely of letters, the plot follows an orphan named Jerusha Abbott who gets sent to college by an anonymous trustee of the John Grier Home. Her benefactor’s only stipulation is that she must write monthly correspondences to “Mr. John Smith,” updating him of her progress. She is told that he may never read them and never to expect a reply. Inevitably “Daddy Long-Legs” (whimsically nicknamed so by Jerusha after she sees his long shadow) aka Jarvis Pendleton reads them all leading to an unexpected, uplifting, and emotionally heart-wrenching, love story.

Considering that the book was written in the early 1900’s, it is incredible how the story remains relevant as it relates to basic human emotions and our need for intimate contact and connection. The two characters experience tremendous growth from beginning to end; Jerusha is discovering the world outside the orphanage for the first time, and “girl-hating” Jarvis gets to experience that wonder through her letters. Over time she erases his rather cynical view of life and family.

Speaking of cynicism, I was concerned that Daddy Long Legs would turn out to be a snooze fest. Despite being a huge fan of the book, a two person show can be monotonous. I wasn’t prepared for how extraordinary this production would be! The songs by Paul Gordon are beautiful, with lyrics he based on the text of the book. But Megan McGinnis is what truly makes this show divine; she embodies the role of Jerusha. With the voice of an angel, Megan and the equally talented Paul Alexander Nolan keep the audience spellbound. Together they masterfully weave a compelling story through song and letters. The show also has some great little nuggets of humor which Paul delivers so well with his nuanced performance.

I actually had an opportunity to speak with Paul Nolan at Broadway in Bryant Park this past summer. While unfamiliar with Daddy Long Legs before taking on the role of Jarvis, he was excited to be a part of the show. Paul also loved that the story has a strong female lead and is empowering for woman. I asked him what is was like to sing at opening day in Yankee Stadium– he confessed that it was an honor, but pretty nerve-wracking and challenging. Unlike typical stage performances, there is less time to prepare and it’s very difficult to hear yourself over the crowd. That may be true, but I was at that game and he sounded fantastic! Listen here.

As much as I love big Broadway productions, there is something to be said for quiet simplicity. The secret is, when you have an incredible story and two performers of such a high caliber, you don’t need more than a captive audience. As Jerusha sings in the show, “happiness comes when we learn to be still.” This production embodies that idea– sometimes a show does not need bells and whistles to exceed expectations. But don’t take my word for it, go and see for yourself! Daddy Long Legs is playing at the Davenport Theatre, tickets are available through June 6.

Things to keep in mind if you see Daddy Long Legs:

  • The Davenport Theatre is very small, every seat has a perfect view.
  • Bathrooms are in the basement and a little bit squashy.
  • There is no stage door, the actors leave through the main lobby.

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