A teenager is rescued from the orphanage where she has grown up and a very uncertain future by an unknown benefactor who thinks she has writing talent and offers to pay for her college education.
There are two stipulations: she must never know the name of her benefactor and she must write him a letter (addressing it to a Mr. John Smith) every month, talking about her studies and her life and in the process practicing her writing.
It's Daddy Long Legs, now about to make its regional premiere at Main Street Theater with Andrew Ruthven directing. It's a musical he's wanted to do for quite a while but only recently was able to fit it into Main Street's schedule after the rights were released in 2016.
Based on a 1912 novel by Jean Webster and adapted into a musical with book by John Caird (Les Misérables) and music and lyrics by Paul Gordon (Jane Eyre) the two-act, two-person work is set in the years 1908 to 1922.
"I'm a big fan of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables so I fell in love with the story and the music," Ruthven said.
Asked what he looked for when he was selecting his cast, Ruthven said the man had to be tall and both actors had to be able to sing and be good story tellers to carry the two person cast.
"The man had to at least 6 feet tall and the woman could not compete in height with that," he added explaining that in the story Jerusha Abbott (Shanae'a Moore) catches a glimpse of the mysterious man but only sees him in silhouette.Because he is so tall, she nicknames him Daddy Long Legs. So the actor has to be tall which fits Matt Harris Anderson who plays the role of Jervis Pendleton.
Jerusha assumes that her benefactor previously helped boys, is in his 80s and rich, Ruthven said. Actually, he is much younger, in his early 30s.
As the story unfolds, Jervis moves from just being her benefactor to someone who falls in love with her - albeit from afar. "Through reading her letters he falls in love with her. Part of it is their love story because he’s able to visit her at the college and present himself as her roommate's uncle."
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"It's also about her coming into her own because as an orphan she was never exposed to literature and art and history and philosophy. She's coming into her own as an independent woman."
In the book, everything was told from Jerusha's point of view in the letters she wrote, Ruthven said. The musical also brings in the thoughts from Jervis, who now also reads aloud some of her letters and talks about how he feels about them. "It works as a musical because they wrote beautiful songs for it. The style is very presentational; she's basically reading her letters or she's saying what her letters say to us, so it works well going into the songs that tell the story."
Because of all the letter writing, the two actors spend very little time together on stage, Ruthven said. "It's almost like, Shanae'a said the other day, it's almost like two one person shows that occasionally collide."
Performances are scheduled for May 19 through June 17 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard. For information call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com $36-$45. No performance on May 30.