After 18 months of pandemic-induced closure, Renegade Theater Company is finally back onstage with the delightfully charming musical “Daddy Long Legs,” directed by Peter Froehlingsdorf.
From when the ever-exuberant Mary Fox, Renegade’s artistic director, welcomed the audience back, to the wildly enthusiastic standing ovation at show’s end, the evening felt like a celebration of theater.
The story was first a 1912 novel and then a 1955 film adaptation with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron. This award-winning 2015 off-Broadway musical incarnation was brought to the stage by John Caird, best known for his work on Les Misérables, and lyricist and composer Paul Gordon, who collaborated with Caird both on the musical “Jane Eyre” and then this show.
With nuances of Brontë heroines, Cinderella, Annie, Eliza Doolittle and Jo March, the musical tells the story of plucky 18-year-old orphan Jerusha Abbot (Amelia Barr), and her mysterious and anonymous benefactor, Jervis Pendleton (Jace LeGarde), who provides her the money for her expenses for college.
Jerusha imagines her benefactor to be tall (solely based on the elongated shadow in the headlights of his car leaving the orphanage) and an old, grey grandfatherly type, decades her senior, who she calls Daddy Long Legs.
The story is told primarily through Jerusha’s letters to Jervis that he requires her to write to him monthly to let him know of her progress in college. Endlessly frustrating to her, he never responds to the completely one-sided correspondence in which she bares her soul to him and reveals the wit and cleverness of her mind and writing.
While the show is ballad-heavy with some of the songs taking on a sameness, LeGarde and Barr keep the show vibrant, singing the score beautifully. Highlights include the gorgeous duets “The Color of Your Eyes” and “The Secret of Happiness.”
Both LeGarde and Barr tackle the roles as professionals, both reflecting their acting and musical training, and winning the audience over with ease in their completely believable performances.
The show is very much the arc of Jerusha’s coming of age, and Barr portrays enchanting moments of humor, innocence and later maturity about what it means to be an independent woman.
The instrumental trio of Christine Winkler Johnson, Cory Clay and Isak Artang are the perfect accompaniment for the actors. Laura Piotrowski’s lovely period costumes are on point, and Peter Froehlingsdorf’s set design provides a beautiful and versatile playing space.
Kudos to Renegade for the following protocols:
- Proof of full-course COVID-19 vaccination completed at least 14 days prior, or a negative COVID-19 test result taken within the previous 72 hours must be shown at the door.
- Masks are required throughout the Zeitgeist Arts Building, regardless of vaccination status.
- All Zeitgeist staff and Renegade cast and crew are 100% vaccinated. Cast and crew have been COVID tested weekly and will continue to test through the run.
- Seating is limited to a capacity of 88 as opposed to 120.
If you go
What: Renegade Theater’s “Daddy Long Legs”
When: Aug. 20-22 and Aug. 25-28, performances at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 22, at 2 p.m.
Where: Teatro Zuccone at Zeitgeist
Cost: General admission — adults $25, seniors $20, and students $16. Tickets available at zeitgeistarts.com
Information: At renegadetheatercompany.org or at 228-336-1414
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews performances for the News Tribune.