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Dear Daddy Long Legs, Great Job!

This past weekend, UMBC’s Musical Theatre Club presented Daddy Long Legs in the Skylight Room in the Commons building. Inspired by a book written by Jean Webster, Daddy Long Legs is a tale not many people know of. The Musical Theatre Club’s performance was a small yet strongly influential play that made an unheard of play unforgettable.

Daddy Long Legs follows the story of an orphan, Jerusha Abbott, who, although approaching the age of adulthood, finds herself mentally caged and physically limited in the John Grier Home, an orphan asylum. One day, a philanthropist, Jervis Pendleton, anonymously grants Jerusha an enrollment in college, all expenses paid.

Jervis requests that Jerusha write him one letter a month updating him on her life to which he would neglect to reply, he warned. Jerusha graciously accepted the offer, and began to write letters to a man whom she called Daddy Long Legs, yet did not know at all, a man who was slowly falling in love with her. And so, Jervis ends up debating who is doing the charity for who.

This play was none like I had ever seen before; it was different in many aspects. To begin, the entire play consisted of only two actors: Emma Gilligan and Sean Custer. Their portrayals of their characters were phenomenal, so much so that it was easy to forget the absence of other roles.

An audience member would probably expect a play to feel empty or unfinished without a large cast of actors. However, the Musical Theatre Club’s production of Daddy Long Legs fulfilled no such expectation. The two actors performed with just as much emotion, heart, vocal integrity and genuine empathy for their individual characters as a cast of 60 parts could have.

The play was performed in the Skylight Room which was a fairly odd, unexpected choice of location. The performance itself had a very small set, equally divided between the lives of Jerusha and Jervis. The set consisted of two desks, a couple of bookshelves, a clothesline of letters and a couple of boxes used for multiple purposes.

This, however, left much room for imagination and forced the actors to abandon dependence on background and set. They used acting as a tool to change the scenery. For example, throughout the play, Jerusha went on many trips. She went to a farm, to Manhattan, and even to Boston. The set never changed, but somehow the audience felt like they had followed Jerusha to all these places.

One reason why this was so effectively executed was because of sound. From a knock on the door to a rainstorm, every sound hung off every one of the actors’ lines seamlessly. Sound designer Aiden Teter did a great job using sounds as cues for change in mood, tone and scenery.

Above all, the most striking, impressive contributor to this play was the pit orchestra. Each member came together to create a beautiful outcome. The orchestra’s music really set the mood of each scene. The music hinted whether a character was angry, sad, happy or even jealous. What’s a musical without music? Unarguabley, the music in Daddy Long Legs was exceptional. Overall, UMBC Musical Theatre Club’s production of Daddy Long Legs was grand. Director Julia Arbutus did a great job at putting together a memorable play unlike any other, here at UMBC.