By Lynn Venhaus
Jennifer Theby-Quinn, one of the most radiant life forces in local theater, joyfully
slips into a vivacious literary heroine with energy, enthusiasm and ease in
“Daddy Long Legs.”
The charming musical romance opened Insight Theatre
Company’s 12th season, whose theme is “A Riot of the Heart!”
Based on Jean Webster’s 1912 novel, which is a written as a
series of letters between pen pals, “Daddy Long Legs” enthralled me as a youth.
I naturally identified with orphan Jerusha Abbott, a very smart young woman who
longs for adventure.
Because she is a bookworm who shows much promise as a
writer, Jerusha is given an opportunity to attend college by an anonymous
benefactor, whom she nicknames “Daddy Long Legs” after she spies this
tall trustee leaving the John Grier Home one day, from a distance. The sole
request is that she correspond once a month.
In a plot twist, he befriends her using his real identity,
as the bachelor uncle of one of her affluent roommates. The family is of
considerable social status, and Jerusha is enamored of their wealth and advantages.
Internationally renowned countertenor Terry Barber plays the
mysterious Jervis Pendleton whose zest for life grows as his affection for the
wide-eyed innocent coed does. Her lively observations, spoken as her written
prose, have enchanted him.
Barber’s vocals are exquisite, and with music direction by
Scott Schoonover, the lush score soars. Leading a three-person combo on
keyboard, Schoonover benefits from Tracy Andreotti on cello and Vincent Varvel
on guitar, guiding each number with expert skill.
While Barber’s acting is less effective here, the show is
really is Jennifer’s to own, for it is truly a remarkable role for a leading
lady. In Jerusha’s journey of self-discovery, Theby-Quinn shines brightly,
lighting up every corner of The Marcelle.
The story takes place in turn-of-the-century New England,
and through Theby-Quinn’s animated performance, Jerusha reveals herself as a
woman of substance, an outspoken suffragette who champions social justice. As
she blossoms, her joie de vivre is palpable and infectious.
Julian King’s vintage costume design is quite fetching,
except the wig choice for Jervis.
Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Jerusha Abbott
Director Maggie Ryan keeps the characters moving, and with
Quinn’s ebullience, there is no static at all. Rob Lippert’s ingenious set
design, rich in detail and smart function, serves the action well.
Nevertheless, the second act seems much longer than
necessary, and tests the goodwill of the first one as the two-person show seems
in no rush to arrive at the inevitable.
The book is by John Caird, Tony nominee for directing “Les
Miserables,” and the music and lyrics are by Paul Gordon, the Tony
Award-nominated composer of “Jane Eyre.” The production debuted off-Broadway in
2015, but before that, received an engaging tryout at The Repertory Theatre of
St. Louis in 2012.
For any girl who know what it’s like to dream, this musical
marvelously captures the yearning to see the world and the excitement to be
introduced to new things in life.
It’s also a quaint portrait of the social mores in the
early 20th century, and the evolution of contemporary women.
Long Legs” is presented by Insight Theatre Company March 29-April 14 at The
Marcelle Theatre. For more information, visit www.insighttheatrecompany.com
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.