Daddy Long Legs
Through, Sunday May 27
Kennedy Theatre, Raleigh

The chamber musical Daddy Long Legs tries so hard to join us in the twenty-first century.

In the book by John Caird (the original director of the mega-musical Les Misérables) and the lyrics by Paul Gordon, two characters strain against the societal conventions of the first decade of the twentieth century. Jerusha Abbott (played by a luminous Hilary Maiberger for Theatre Raleigh) is the oldest ward of the John Grier Home, a lovely, lifeless orphanage, but her potentially permanent position is changed when Jervis Pendleton, a wealthy young trustee, offers to fund her tuition and expenses at an all-girls college.

But there are strings attached. Abbott must write him monthly of the details of her life, as if writing to her absent family. Pendleton will always remain anonymous and never reply.

Both parties chafe against this imbalance of power. Abbott says, “These are his orders, this is his game … I guess I’ll never know him / You mustn’t know your betters / But he will know me in letters.” Later, Pendleton regrets the “mad hypocrisy” of the relationship he’s engineered: “I’m drowning in the waves of my deceit,” he groans in “The Man I’ll Never Be.”

But because this is a musical, both inevitably fall in a kind of love; he with a woman he has required to disclose her inner life to keep a scholarship; she with a cipher who, unknown to her, infiltrates her life by pretending to be the uncle of a classmate.

In Gordon’s songs, a forward-thinking Abbott wants to “Cure disease and write a symphony / And win the Nobel Prize / Like other girls.” But by her fourth song, a woman who’s never had a father is already calling a man she’s never met “Daddy,” saying, “I feel like I belong to somebody now.” That queasiness persists through this spider-webbed romance.