North Bay theater in the New Year kicks off with Cinnabar Theater’s production of the two-hander, Daddy Long Legs. Former Cinnabar artistic director Elly Lichenstein returns to direct John Caird and Paul Gordon’s musical adaptation of the popular novel by Jean Webster that was first published in 1912. The production runs in Petaluma through Jan. 22.
The epistolary format of the novel remains as the story of orphan Jerusha Abbott (Brittany Law Hasbany) and her unseen benefactor, Jervis Pendleton (Zachary Hasbany), unfolds through a series of letters set to music.
Jerusha is surprised to learn that a trustee of the orphanage will provide for her college education under certain conditions. The trustee will remain anonymous, and Jerusha must write “Mr. Smith” regularly with the understanding that he will never respond. Jerusha imagines him to be a trustee whose shadow she caught a glimpse of one evening. His legs were long and spindly, and she imagines him to be quite old. Consequently, she chooses to address him as “Daddy Long Legs.”
Old Mr. Smith is actually young Jervis Pendleton, a philanthropist who is at first amused but soon enchanted by Jerusha’s musings on college life and personal growth. He ends up violating his own conditions by responding to Jerusha, albeit as a fictional member of his staff. Jervis takes advantage of an opportunity for them to meet while maintaining his anonymity, and their relationship deepens.
What will it take for Jervis to admit who he is, and how will Jerusha react?
Twenty-first-century eyes may see this story a bit differently than a set of early 20th-century peepers might have at the time. Jervis’ “courting” of Jerusha then might be considered “catfishing” today, and issues of status, power and control lurk in the background. The “daddy” thing can be a bit creepy, but having a real-life married couple in the leads provides some relief, as their genuine affection for each other and chemistry helped take the edge off.
Both are talented performers who deliver songs like “Who is This Man?”, “She Thinks I’m Old” and “The Secret of Happiness” with humor and heart. Excellent accompaniment was provided by a three-piece orchestra consisting of Brett Strader (piano/conductor), Isaac Carter (guitar) and Gwyneth Davis (cello).
One’s enjoyment of the show might be affected by one’s appreciation for it as a period piece. It runs a bit long, as the script and songs are occasionally repetitive, but charm does win out in the end.
‘Daddy Long Legs’ runs through Jan. 22 at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Fri–Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $25–$45. Masking is encouraged. 707.763.8920. cinnabartheater.org.