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An orphan girl named Jerusha Abbott, a name taken from the phone book, expects nothing from life when she turns 18 in New York, the year 1904. Until a mysterious benefactor chooses to send her to college instead of a promising young man, a rare privilege for a girl at the turn of the 20th century. The Skylight Music Theatre stages this heartwarming transition from young girl to womanhood in one of the world premieres of the musical Daddy Long Legs in the Cabot Theatre through April 1.   

Daddy Long Legs features music and lyrics by the award winning Paul Gordon with the book written by John Caird, who also directs the production. The original story was authored by Jean Webster, adapted from one of the writer’s most popular novels published in 1912 that explored educating women and relevant social issues when the feminine vote was still in debate. 

Women under 40 may be quite unaware of how many women came before them, struggled to provide them with equal rights in athletics, acquiring credit, property rights and securing running for public office and their vote. These women may forget that teenage girls in 1960 were still required to wear dresses to high school, sports were unheard of except for synchronized swimming or water ballet. Even credit cards were unavailable to women in the 1970’s and depended on the income of their husbands. When living in 2012, these facts may appear utterly absurd, although women in some countries are still banned from voting.   

If these situations sound unreal, Jerusha Abbott (Megan McGinnis) becomes the charming means for recalling these truisms while she writes letters to her benefactor who she named Daddy Long Legs. A fitting moniker because he asked to remain anonymous and Jerusha caught one glimpse of him leaving the orphanage, only noticing his very lanky legs.

Along her four-year college path, Jerusha’s letters write their way into the soul of Jervis Pendleton (Robert Adelman Hancock), the handsome, tall and young instead of old. greying person Jersusha imagines as her lifeline. McGinnis embodies the daring and delightful Jerusha, who sings songs such as “Like Other Girls” and “Things I Didn’t Know” to capture the essence of spanning her educational and social gaps, which girls in contemporary situations could relate to. How could Jerusha think Michelangelo was an archangel instead of a Renaissance painter, didn’t the name sound like one? 

Similarly, Hancock evocatively wonders what attracts him to this curious and passionate girl who slowly encourages him to read everything she’s studying at college. Yet, somehow maintains her empathy for those in an orphanage. When Jerusha begins signing her letters with love, Hancock beautifully imagines this dilemma in the lyrical “When Shall We Meet?” 

While the Cinderella story can appear predictable, McGinnis and Hancock never act as their characters are. When the two bend down on their knees for the finale, “All This Time,” the audience will meet the pair where they are, in one's heart.  An audience could listen to McGinnis and Hancock sing all evening long, and then two hours more, which includes the winsome “The Color of Your Eyes.” 

Daddy Long Legs becomes musical theater for every age, especially young women, although men will definitely appreciate the couple's journey. An audience will lose themselves watching this enchanting tale, the richly appointed set created by David Farley, the dates of the letters scripted on the stage in light designed by Paul Toben, and the live orchestration by Musical Director Julie McBride.  

This story where a woman becomes all she was meant to be while discovering a man who cherishes her for her charity and intelligence will constantly be timeless. A production meant to be experienced in Milwaukee before the musical could travel to Broadway. In a world obsessed with physical beauty and celebrity, Jerusha and Jervis remind 21st century audiences what women suffered in achieving independence while recalling what really matters in life. Heartily applaud the Skylight’s Daddy Long Legs while appreciating the song that notes this is “The Secret to Happiness.” 

The Skylight Music Theatre presents the musical Daddy Long Legs in the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center through April 1. For tickets or information call: 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.  by Peggy Sue Dunigan



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