By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
Prepare to be completely mesmerized and yes, enchanted, by two actors playing and singing roles that I swear could have been written just for them and their voices. Kurt Boehm (Jervis) and Caroline Wolfson (Jerusha) mostly sing the romantic story of a smart, quirky young orphan woman and her also young, but mysterious and extremely wealthy benefactor and the love that grows between them through handwritten letters over the years. Did I say handsome benefactor? Should have. Sounds deadly, no? No! A thousand times—no! It’s stunning in the simplicity of the story line and in the beauty of the contemporary music and lyrics by Paul Gordon (“Jane Eyre”) and the beautiful book by John Caird (“Jane Eyre”) sung effortlessly by the meltingly fine voices of both actors.
Is it just me, or is theatre just getting better and better in the DMV now? To be completely honest with you, until Monumental reached out to me to attend opening/press night of “Daddy Long Legs”, I had never heard of this company. They have actually been around since 2015, were the recipient of the 2018 John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company at the 2018 Helen Hayes Awards, and they currently are up for nine 2019 Helen Hayes Awards for their productions of “Brooklyn” and “Pippin”! It’s now time for me (and you, dear readers) to pay attention to this upstart company, which is working currently in the intimate setting of a black box theatre in the Ainslie Arts Center of Episcopal High School located in Alexandria.
But back to the show, based on the Jean Webster epistolary novel of 1912. The play begins in the John Greer Home, an orphanage in which Jerusha Abbott has grown up, helping out with the other children and is now about to finish high school with no particular plans for the future. Meanwhile, one of the school’s trustees has asked for essays from each of the college age orphans to determine if he might want to help with the graduates’ further education. Jerusha’s essay catches his attention and he sets out the rules by which he will guarantee her college education. She must write to him once a month, not to thank him, but to just describe her circumstances in college. However, she must not expect any letters or correspondence in return; and he will not answer any questions about himself. She will also be given a clothing allowance so that she can maintain a certain image in college. Imagine a bright, witty, unspoiled young girl pouring out her heart to this man for almost four years. The frustration is immense! And Caroline Wolfson is more than up to the nuances of how Jerusha handles herself during these years. We see and hear Jerusha’s benefactor, but she doesn’t see him until late in the play. All this is played out on a marvelously simple set by Jessica Cancino in costumes by Kristen P. Ahern who has made them deceptively simple, yet truly evocative of the period and given Caroline and Kurt easy to make changes, sometimes in front of the audience. Thereby hangs the tale…
The unusual way in which the two actors/singers approach this material reflects the work of director Michael Windsor and music director Marika Countouris. Normally I look for energy and high enthusiasm from singers and actors in a musical theatre piece. However, these two actors simply are the two people they portray and they never stress, raise their voices in anger or frustration (well, Jerusha does get a bit frustrated at times, but not too overtly so). They generally seem to sing (or speak) smoothly and evenly and gorgeously at all times, without any overt strain throughout the arc of the story. Perfectly lovely to watch and hear for two hours. You won’t believe it when it’s over. And you will beg for more singing. Trust me. And you’ll want to experience a tad more of the romance and chemistry that finally, finally (oops, spoiler alert!) happens.
I also want to tell you about the brilliant small orchestra comprised of a keyboard (Ms. Countouris), cello (Stephen Czarkowski or David Zelinsky), and guitar (Alec Green). The way they are situated in this intimate setting behind a black curtain just offstage, they sound like a small symphony orchestra, never overpowering the singers, just providing sumptuous underscoring for the voices. Some of the harmonies these two singers are asked to perform are so difficult, beautiful and intricate, my ears were literally vibrating from the fabulous sound. And large kudos to the lighting (Rob Siler) and sound (Michael (Dags) D’Agostino) experts for this show. This is a state of the art theatre and their beautiful work certainly shows well in this production.
Do I think you may want to race to your computers to order tickets before this jewel of a show closes on March 30? Resoundingly, YES!
Performance and Ticket Information: Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission. “Daddy Long Legs” presented by Monumental Theatre runs now through March 30, 2019. Performances are all at the Ainslie Arts Center, Episcopal High School, 3900 West Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA. Purchase tickets online at www.monumentaltheatre.org