‘Daddy Long Legs’ was sublime.
As Ella Macrokanis and Shaun Kohlman took their bows on Sunday night, it was to a standing ovation and uproarious applause. Taking us on a journey of self-discovery, love and imagination, the Australian Premiere of ‘Daddy Long Legs’ is an unmissable show that will keep you engrossed from start to finish.
Based on the novel by Jean Webster, with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and book by John Caird, ‘Daddy Long Legs’ follows the story of Jerusha Abbott, the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home. Abbott is an expressive, imaginative and often impetuous writer. Her work takes the interest of a mysterious benefactor, who chooses to sponsor her to go to college to further her talents. The condition: every month she must send a letter, detailing her college life and learning pursuits, to her benefactor. The catch: she should never expect a letter in response. Trusting a single glimpse of the old, long-legged and mysterious man as he leaves the orphanage, Jerusha affectionately names him Daddy Long Legs.
Jerusha’s life and learning take her many places over the corresponding years. Most notable is her introduction to the handsome, young and wealthy Jervis Pengleton. As the story unfolds, we discover that, perhaps, Daddy Long Legs is not so mysterious after all.
Director, Connor Clarke, orchestrated this show with finesse and thoroughness, with no element overlooked. Working with a beautiful set, constructed by Scott Lymbery, we were transported to the early 1900s. The blocking worked hand in hand with the set, allowing for a sense of time and place to be conveyed to the audience. Clarke made excellent use of the suitcases arranged in the downstage area, as they were expertly manipulated to create bedrooms, mountains, or tabletops. More so, each movement marked either a new letter or a new phase in Jerusha’s life. It allowed the action to flow, and continually sparked interest and energy as the audience watched each new place be revealed.
Costume design by Frances Foo and Maddi Goodridge was well executed, highly aesthetic, and ingenious. In a show that negotiates a three-year timeline and varied landscapes, and also one where the actors do not exit the stage, the costumes need to be clever, and so they were. Double-sided dresses and overskirts that could be easily manipulated on stage, were swapped and changed as Jerusha went from college to country to upper-class manor. As she became a more refined and educated lady herself, the costumes continued to reflect her inner growth. In a similar way, Jervis Pengleton’s three-piece suit was flawless, and perfect for his status and the era.
Fiona Black’s lighting design was simple and highly effective. While creating focus and drawing the eyes of the audience, the lights were used not only to illuminate but also to create shadows and silhouettes. This added a welcome element to the telling of the story, as these shadows often reflected the presence of one character in the other’s life, or dictated the mood of the scene. Details, such as the desk lamp, did not go unnoticed, as it frequently indicated the intentions of the character of Pengleton.
This gorgeous score was placed in good hands. The band, with music direction by Sean Fagan (also on keys), with Fabian Orozco (guitar), Daniel Smerdon (cello) and Amy Naumaa (cello alternate), were flawless in their playing. They supported and worked seamlessly with the actors on stage. Jamie Taylor, as sound designer, ensured that each element was well balanced so that not a word was missed.
Ella Macrokanis (Jerusha Abbott) and Shaun Kohlman (Jervis Pengleton iii) were perfectly cast in their roles.
As the young and adventurous writer, Macrokanis’ portrayal was honest and heartfelt. In Macrokanis’ hands, Jerusha became a character that we could all relate to and love, as she reflected the youthful innocence and excitement that comes from newfound independence. With a strong and versatile singing voice, Macrokanis delivered Jerusha’s story with all of the intelligence and integrity that the character possessed.
Kohlman handled the multifaceted Jervis Pengleton with great skill and care. He conveyed the inner turmoil of the character, while also allowing us to see his character’s journey as he comes to know Jerusha. Watching a man read a letter has never been so captivating. His singing voice conveyed all of the strength and softness that the character possessed.
Passion Production’s show, ‘Daddy Long Legs’ celebrates theatre at its best. With a beautiful score, coupled with an engrossing and heartfelt story, executed by a talented team of performers and creatives, this show cannot be missed. It is a celebration of all the most beautiful things in the world: love, music, learning and imagination.
The secret to happiness is ‘Daddy Long Legs’ playing at the Brisbane Powerhouse until Saturday, 5 October 2019. Tickets can be purchased at Brisbane Powerhouse – ‘Daddy Long Legs’.