Daddy Long Legs, a relatively new production based on the Jean Webster novel penned in 1912, made its way to the stage of Pittsburgh Public Theater for their most recent production. The Public doesn’t play too much in the waters of musical theater, peppering shows like My Fair Lady into the more classical theatrics the audience become accustomed to. Before I sat down for the first act, I heard a fair amount of people talking about the fact that there was going to be music in the production.
“I have no idea what I’m getting into,” a guest gingerly said to a friend before shuffling through the crowd to her seat.
I, however am quite fond of musical theater, and when The Public decides to put on a show, I tend to take notice. The story of Daddy Long Legs follows an orphan, Jerusha Abbott, and wealthy tycoon, Jervis Pendelton, as they bump into one another in the most frustrating game “Do you like me? circle yes or no,” known to mankind.
Abbot is strickend by an impotent existence at an orphanage called the John Grier Home, until a wealthy businessman, Jervis Pendelton, AKA. Mr. Smith, AKA Daddy Long Legs, presumably 80+ years old, according to Abbott, took an interest in her well-being and bankrolled a full ride to university. Lucky for him, she loved to write, and the two began to correspond and developed quite the rapport, jostling back on forth with witty banter, thoughts, hopes, and dreams. But much to Abbott’s chagrin, Mr. Smith wanted to remain hidden from plain sight.
Curious about this Jerusha, but unwilling to expose his true identity, Pendelton”bumps” into Pendelton by chance while at school, and the two have a magical time. And as feelings grow, a furrowed sense of panic begins to set in as Pendelton realizes the precarious position he’s put himself into.
One thing Pendelton didn’t bank on was falling in love, and being faced with the dilemma that He and Mr. Smith were one in the same. And thus the juxtaposed battle continues so forth through the entirety of the musical, leaving us to wonder, WTF, are they going to get together or not? But I digress.
Danielle Bowen as Jerusha was pure melodic perfection. Her vocal control was interstellar; with a throaty, yet delicate delivery that owned the stage. The vocal depth of the show took an iron-clad voice, and Bowen rocked. Stylistically, she was spot on with timing, and carried the emotions of the show on her sleeve. Whether it be strength, whimsy, or sass, each breath was craftily curated to extract the maximum amount of panache. One of the best vocal performances of 2017.
Allan Snyder as Jervis was masterfully pensive, frustrated, and all-around neurotic, just the way we like our eccentric men of wealth and leisure. Snyder complimented Bowen with his charming wit and pervasively controlling, yet passionately adorable cluelessness about the opposite sex.
His elementary jealousy, meaty vocals, and sharp tongue, made him a lovably misaligned underdog. While Snyder’s voice is clearly in full stride when he’s belting at the top of his range, his more intimate numbers were performed with consistency and solid fundamentals.
The plot seemed somewhat bloated at times, shaving 30 minutes from the undulating narrative would have made it perfection. Although I can’t rightfully complain about hearing Bowen’s angelic tones, the songs began to take siege of the stage, and with a two person cast, the repetition of the process can begin to lose focus.
Daddy Long Legs is a treat if you’re a fan of vocal mastery. Bowen’s voice is well-alone reason to visit The Public, but don’t forget that the light-hearted storyline in combination with a gorgeous set, and five-star acting makes this an entertaining and intimate duo production.
Daddy Long Legs plays until April 9th. For ticketing information, visit The Public.
Photos by: Michael Henninger