Filichia Features: Daddy Long Legs - Epistle Packin’ Musical

Filichia Features: Daddy Long Legs - Epistle Packin’ Musical

By Peter Filichia on April 28, 2017

Two heads are better than one, as The Robber Bridegroom reminds us. But when it comes to staging a musical, two headliners are easier to deal with than a cast of dozens.

Daddy Long Legs comes to mind. Happily, one of the two characters in this modest musical isn’t the spider known by that name. Who’d want to see an insect singin’ and dancin’ while sucking out a mosquito from the tip of its leg (which is one of the things the pholcus phalangioides actually does).

No, the 2015 musical instead requires one thirtysomething man and one twentysomething woman. So if you choose to direct Daddy Long Legs, you’ll have far less work than you would if you had chosen a musical that requires a boatload of people. Doing a two-person musical may not quite mean no fits, no fights, no feuds and no egos, but you probably will encounter far fewer backstage skirmishes.

You also won’t have to endure actors complaining that their roles are too small. The actor playing the munificent Jervis Pendleton has six solos; the actress portraying Jerusha Abbott, the young beneficiary of his largesse, has five, most of which require a lilting soprano. The two performers also duet nine times.

True, Jerusha is the stronger role, for the actor playing Jervis spends a great deal of time reading what she’s written (and is singing) to him. But we must increasingly see that he’s falling in love with this charming lass whose backbone is filled with spunk and not saccharine. We care for her when she says “What an abyss my mind is!” Oh, it most certainly isn’t, but we appreciate that Jerusha’s not pretending to be more than she actually is and is on course to improve herself.

Considering that most of the action involves letter-writing, you won’t require the services of a choreographer, either. Costuming will of course be minimal, although you will need clothes that reflect what the well-dressed man and the not-so-well-dressed orphan were wearing in early 1900s New England.

The show starts with Jerusha’s lamenting that she’s “The Oldest Orphan in the John Grier Home.” Her situation is unlikely to change. Most couples who adopt want a newborn, and Jerusha’s qualifications in that department expired about 17 years earlier.

Then comes a stroke of unexpected luck. The very wealthy Jervis has seen her essays and has been impressed enough to fund her college education. Hairspray brags that it has “the nicest kids in town,” but Jervis must be the nicest man in all New England.

His one condition is that he solely be known to her as “Mr. Smith” whenever she writes to him of her progress (or lack of it). She has but one clue about him, for she was able to catch a glimpse of his back when he was leaving the orphanage. Because she saw his legs loom even longer thanks to the sun’s afternoon shadow, she dubbed him “Daddy Long Legs.”

So unlike Little Orphan Annie, who got to know her Daddy (Warbucks) quite well, Big Orphan Jerusha doesn’t expect to know Daddy. Because wealth tends to come with accumulated years, she assumes that he must be an old man. Jervis lets her think so.

The book and a few of the lyrics are by John Caird, who must have found doing this small-scale off-Broadway musical quite a departure. Caird, after all, was the co-director of 1982’s Tony-winning play The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby and 1987’s Tony-winning musical Les Miserables. The former had 39 cast members and the latter 31. Even Caird’s 2000 musical version of Jane Eyre involved 19 performers.

Caird did Jane Eyre with composer-lyricist Paul Gordon, who must have got along with him for he signed on to do Daddy Long Legs. (What a coincidence: Jerusha’s favorite book is Jane Eyre!) Gordon’s songs have the right late 19th century American sound and are easy on the ears. In a time when people often complain that they can no longer hum songs from a musical, here’s “The Secret of Happiness” to prove them wrong.

The Drama Desk gave its Best Book of a Musical award to Caird’s libretto. He based it on Jean Webster’s 1911 novel. He retained her statement “to live in the now … life may not last long.” Was that a premonition? Webster, sad to say, died in childbirth at the age of 39. So Daddy Long Legs gives us words to live by, too.

Because of this sensibility – and the moderate demands on producing it -- Jerusha’s “Daddy” will not be the only one with long legs. The musical also has, to use a famous show-biz term, long legs – meaning that it will be produced for years to come.

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You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at His book, The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at