OREM — Happiness is found in the small and simple things, or so opines the plucky heroine Jerusha in Hale Center Theater Orem’s latest offering. As she says in this emotional play, “The secret of happiness is living in the time it takes to blink.”
Daddy Long Legs, a musical with a script by John Caird and music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, is a piece that dwells on those small and simple things. The story follows Jerusha Abbot (played by Scout Smith), the oldest orphan in an asylum for dull children as she becomes the recipient of a full ride scholarship from a mysterious benefactor. The money comes with several conditions. First, she must write a letter to her patron once a month. Second, she must never thank him. And finally, he will never write back or reveal his real name.
While Jerusha is grateful, she is not necessarily compliant. She quickly nicknames her benefactor “Daddy Long Legs” after catching sight of him leaving the orphanage, and immediately begins pestering him for personal details, such as his hair color and true age. Her correspondence is filled with enthusiastic accounts of her everyday life, from details of her classes to the interactions with her classmates. Over time, her benefactor, whose real name is Jervis (played by David Paul Smith), becomes intrigued with this energetic mind and finds a way to correspond while maintain his anonymity.
Director David Morgan has beautifully executed this two-person show. While a series of monologues and ballads could easily become tedious, the pace never lags in this production. The staging is clever, allowing the characters to occupy the same space while still feeling separate. The Orem Hale’s tiny stage has been converted into an elegant study with a seemingly endless number of little cabinets, pull out pieces, and hidden props. Cole McClure’s ingenious set design allowed for seamless transitions that did more than set the stage; they moved the story along. One particular moment involving a bouquet of flowers traveling on the small turntable prompted an unexpectedly emotional reaction, as did another where a trapdoor combined with lighting effects (designed by Cody Swenson) became a menacingly stark furnace.
As Jerusha, Scout Smith carries the piece with confidence and grace. She has a lovely singing voice, and her interpretation of Jerusha is likeable. Her evolution from naïve orphan to educated socialite is clearly communicated throughout the play. In the first act, Jerusha’s physicality is exaggerated and almost childlike, and she responds to obstacles with immature and impetuous pouting, though not grating. By the second, she has matured in her emotional control while still maintaining a clear sense of independence.
David Paul Smith’s portrayal of Jervis is sincere and touching. He creates a character that is powerful, but sweetly awkward, a Jervis who is controlling, but kind. His relationship with Jerusha changes Jervis, and at a pivotal moment in later in the show it is deeply gratifying to watch this rich man humble himself and recognize that his money does not buy him control over people. Smith makes Jervis’s devotion to Jerusha clear, and creates several truly heartbreaking moments for to watch.
A few small details in this production could be improved. Jerusha feels very young in the first act—almost too young to make the connection between her and Jervis plausible. Smith’s interpretation felt a generic and not like a fully developed human being. More specific acting choices would the audience understand what draws Jervis to her. Additionally, few emotional moments seemed rushed and could use time to allow the audience to fully feel their impact. But these are small pieces of advice for a nearly note-perfect production.
Daddy Long Legs‘s best moments focus on the tiny heartbreaks and victories of everyday life: the awkwardness of a first date, joy of receiving a gift, the devastation of a creative failure. The sniffles heard in the audience made it quite clear that these small moments packed a pretty hard emotional punch. If you go (and you should go), expect to be moved, touched, and uplifted.