TheatreWorks musical has legs 

A sentimental singsong of a musical, “Daddy Long Legs” is thoroughly delightful.

Robert Kelley’s TheatreWorks has joined companies in Ventura and Cincinnati in presenting the world premiere of the show featuring a book by John Caird (who also directs) and music and lyrics by Paul Gordon.

Based on Jean Webster’s 1912 novel of the same name, the show, which opened Saturday at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, is about an orphan girl and her anonymous benefactor: Think of a teenage “Annie” and the possibility of romance with a younger, kinder Daddy Warbucks.

The title, names of characters and some of the storyline also were in the 1955 film with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron.

Megan McGinnis is excellent as Jerusha Abbott, a young woman who is saved from an orphanage and sent to college by a mysterious benefactor, Jervis Pendleton (Robert Adelman Hancock).

Idly rich and boasting a big heart, Pendleton wants to be known only as “Mr. Smith” and requests monthly letters from the girl, not expecting replies or contact.

In what’s almost a one-woman show, McGinnis brilliantly speaks and sings her way through Jerusha’s college years, in which she becomes a woman, and the letters she sends to her benefactor, whom she calls Daddy Long Legs.

Of course he falls in love, and naturally there are complications, and  proceedings move inexorably toward a happy ending.

While stories depending on hidden identities and melodramatic but easy-to-solve conflict run from “Cyrano de Bergerac” to Superman’s ongoing ruse to most B movies, this TheatreWorks show stands out thanks to its notable text, Caird’s direction and David Farley’s impressive and inventive sets.

Laura Bergquist’s six-instrument band in the pit and the two terrific actors add to the fine effort.

The music fits the innocuous play well. Just as Jerusha’s great discovery is that “the secret of happiness is living in the now,” Gordon’s music is mostly a-b-b-a (or even ABBA), with rising and falling notes that do not require attention, but simply provide “singing speech.” 

A few songs are memorable, the best being “Charity,” which is Hancock’s well-performed big number.

Both actors excel in diction, making the text, whether spoken or sung, easily understandable.

The show’s only misdirection is Jerusha’s first entrance, which is too hurried as she sets the scene in song, and doesn’t allow the audience to tune in fully.

Daddy Long Legs

Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 14
Tickets: $29 to $67
Contact: (650) 463-1960,

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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