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Preview: 'Daddy Long Legs'

Composer Paul Gordon talks about making a new musical for TheatreWorks out of a familiar story

THIS WEEK, Palo Alto’s TheatreWorks presents the world premiere of Daddy Long Legs, a new musical based on the novel by Jean Webster. Daddy Long Legs had a long journey to realization, and composer Paul Gordon was there from the beginning. “I had worked with TheatreWorks before,” he says. “John Caird and I had just finished Jane Eyre, and we were looking for a new musical to start on.”

Caird’s wife suggested Daddy Long Legs, a story in the same vein as Emma and Jane Eyre, two novels that TheatreWorks had adapted for the stage in the past. “In the United States, most people are familiar with Daddy Long Legs through the Fred Astaire movie,” says Gordon. Cairns’ wife, who grew up in Japan, where the book is very popular, knew a different Daddy Long Legs.

Daddy Long Legs is the story of Jerusha Abbott, an orphan sent to college by a mysterious benefactor, whom she nicknames Daddy Long Legs. The American film, produced in 1955, was made near the end of Fred Astaire’s career. The film was made almost solely as a vehicle for Astaire, who was in his mid-50s at time of its release. His co-star, Leslie Caron, was 30 years younger and spoke with a French accent, clashing with her character’s American roots. “We’re extremely faithful to the book,” Gordon says. “We’ve brought it back down so that the age discrepancy isn’t nearly as great.”

Gordon has previously worked with TheatreWorks on similar projects, scoring the musicals Jane Eyre, based on the Brontë classic, and Emma, modeled after the Jane Austen work. “The music is different from what I wrote for Emma and Jane Eyre; I tried to make it a little more contemporary,” says Gordon. In Jane Eyre and Emma, he adds, “the songs sort of went along with the scenes.” Gordon says there are more “stand-alone” numbers in Daddy Long Legs. “It has a little more of my own personal influences in it. You can hear Sondheim, but you can also hear the Beatles.”

The TheatreWorks performances are the second stop in a co-premiere with theaters in Cincinnati and Ventura. Daddy Long Legs is being performed with a six-piece orchestra containing a violin, cello and piano alongside the drums, bass and a guitar. “I was trying to do more contemporary, pop songwriting,” says Gordon of his score. “But mostly I was just trying to write good songs.”

DADDY LONG LEGS, a TheatreWorks presentation, previews Jan. 20–22 at 8pm and opens Jan. 23 at 8pm; regular shows are Tuesday–Wednesday at 7:30pm, Thursday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm (8pm only on Feb. 13) and Sunday at 2 and 7pm (7pm only on Feb. 14) at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $29–$67. (650.463.1960)