For a young mind, the college years are a time of self-discovery and growth. That’s exactly what happens to 18-year-old Jerusha Abbott (Ephie Aardema), once the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home, when she accepts a gift of college tuition from the anonymous benefactor she knows only as “Daddy Long Legs.” In the letters she must write to him in order to keep her scholarship, Jerusha displays a clever wit and a gift for noticing enthralling details, and it is her lively writing that piques the interest of Jervis Pendleton (Kevin Earley), the man whose generosity has sent her to college.
In this charming two-person musical, with book by John Caird, the audience is invited to share the thoughts of an innocent yet insightful young woman. Refreshing and poignant, Jerusha’s descriptions not only of her new surroundings but also of her feelings, thoughts, questions and doubts are all delivered with unexpected eloquence. She even philosophizes about the potential of women on the contemporary social and political scenes.
Music adds an emotional dimension to this story that no novel could match. Paul Gordon’s wonderful melodies show that one can dance through life at the same as one learns from it. Both actors give their characters such life that one feels transported back to the early 20th century yet leaves with a timeless story to remember. Aardema captures the charm of Jerusha, and in the process, she also captures the audience’s hearts. She moves fluidly and believably from being a spunky orphan to a dignified woman. And just as Jervis helps Jerusha to mature, Jerusha helps Jervis to maintain a youthful spark. Earley’s keen portrayal highlights the inner struggle in Jervis between initial restraint and the childlike curiosity Jerusha has unlocked, making this a satisfying version of the now 100-year-old story.