Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
I saw this chamber musical four years ago at Florida Studio Theatre, which was directed by John Caird, and, though I liked it a lot, I had reservations regarding the score on that one listen. Since that time I have listened to the Off-Broadway cast album with pleasure several times and my doubts have vanished. Gordon creates a sound world in which to tell the story of Jerusha Abbott, the oldest orphan at an orphan's home and her benefactor, Mr. Jervis Pendleton. There is at least one excerpt-able song, "The Secret of Happiness," and several others that do more than advance our plot, such as "The Man I'll Never Be" and "Charity."
This Daddy Long Legs is not to be confused with the 1950s Fred Astaire film, which only used the barest outline of the plot, an unknown benefactor and an orphan. Staying close to the original novel pays great rewards, for along with a love story, there are important themes regarding women's place in society circa 1900s and their education, making this version a rich emotional piece.
In the role of Jervis, Nick Lerew gives one of his strongest performances ever with this company. Mr. Lerew is in his late 20s and, frankly, plays ever a bit younger. He brings a boyish charm, which, considering that the character is never able to muster the courage to reveal his true identity, is believable. Britta Ollmann as Jerusha is sensational. She goes from a plain insecure orphan to a beautiful, mature young woman in front of our eyes. The physical and emotional transformation is gradual but steady throughout the musical's two plus hours. Ms. Ollmann has an excellent voice, but the part is written in mid voice and it is not always possible to understand everything she is singing. A little discrete miking might have helped or, heaven forbid, since they are so out of normal usage, a couple of floor mics to help her a bit.
Michael Raabe does his usual exemplary job as musical director. Unfortunately, he and his merry band, John Chatterton on cello and Paul Stoddart on guitar, are hidden behind a scrim, because one of the joys of a freeFall production is Michael's animated behavior, he seems to so enjoy what he is doing, no matter what the show.
Guest director Douglas H. Hall directs with a sure hand. I wonder if he is acquainted with John Caird's production, because so much of the staging is reminiscent of it. Artistic director Eric Davis has designed the costumes as well as the setting. He also seems to pay a nod to the settings of the Caird production. The ones for this production are very handsome, some of the most lavish seen at this company. Costuming is very helpful to the performers in projecting their characters. Cody Basham is the lighting designer and Stephen Kraack designed the sound.
freeFall should have another hit on their hands with Daddy Long Legs in this handsome, well-acted production.
Daddy Long Legs, through April 8, 2018, at 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg FL. For ticket and performance information, visit www.freefalltheatre.com.