“DADDY LONG LEGS” through Sept. 22, Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 W. 400 North, Orem (801-226-8600 or haletheater.org); running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission)
OREM — We’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but does that mean we can judge shows by their titles?
In some cases, names turn people off (ahem, “Cinderella Man”). And when you hear the name “Daddy Long Legs,” you’re bound to think Hale Center Theater Orem’s newest musical is going to be sinister or creepy, but it couldn’t be more opposite.
Jerusha Abbott, the oldest orphan at the John Grier Home, has been given the opportunity of her life: an all-expense-paid college education. She has a mysterious benefactor, also an orphanage trustee, who has given her some stipulations in exchange. One of which: she must write him letters about her education and not expect any correspondence in return.
The price is write for Jerusha, who boards a train for college, bright-eyed and eager to experience life and learning. She soon realizes, however, that the academic and social aspects of her new life are overwhelming and disappointing at times.
But back to that creepy name. The benefactor requests that Jerusha address him as Mr. Smith, but Jerusha, who sees his shadow leaving the orphanage, believes him to be tall — and old — so she insists on addressing him as Daddy Long Legs in their one-way correspondence.
Jervis Pendleton, aka Mr. Smith aka Daddy Long Legs, is the one providing Jerusha an education, but what he doesn’t realize is that he’s about to get schooled himself.
Throughout their correspondence, Jerusha’s spunky intellect charms Jervis, and he devises a plan to meet her as he truly is — the uncle of one of her college friends — but not as her tall benefactor. As their relationship unfolds, it of course becomes complicated as most deceitful webs do.
Some theatergoers may be wary of the fact that “Daddy Long Legs,” which ran off Broadway, is a two-person show. The rustic set and costumes are also simple but, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it all works.
The actors move prepositionally with each other as Jerusha, played by Scout Smith (M/W/S cast), and Jervis, played by David Paul Smith (T/Th/S), live separate lives on the same stage. They don't directly interact very often, but the positioning is engaging and clever.
Technically, the actors have some company on stage, albeit behind the scenes. Three musicians accompany the show: pianist Justin Bills (M/Th/S), cellist Risa Bean Stoker (single) and guitarist Chaz Hales (single). They’re hidden behind the set’s bookshelf but add a nice layer to a space that normally can’t accommodate live music.
“Daddy Long Legs,” based off a novel written in 1912, follows Jerusha through her college experience. Although she knows her mysterious benefactor isn’t keen on responding, she writes on, asking questions and eventually begging him to attend her graduation.3 comments on this story
Jervis continues to keep his distance but makes occasional appearances in Jerusha's life, particularly when trying to thwart off her potential love interest. He tries a few times to muster the courage to tell her the complete truth, but chickens out.
As Jerusha, Scout Smith portrays the ingénue’s range of emotions endearingly while audiences feel for the predicament David Paul Smith presents through his character.
“Daddy Long Legs” ends up untangling in a letter-perfect way. It may be a tall tale, but it will charm its audiences in a way that no eight-legged creature ever could.
Content advisory: Appropriate for all ages.