Preview: Two is the loveliest number in ‘Daddy Long Legs,’ a new musical at Roger Rocka’s
When you’re one of the two people in a two-person musical, the pressure is on.
“It’s just the two of us. We never get to leave the stage,” says Shawn Williams, who stars in “Daddy Long Legs,” the new Good Company Players musical production opening Thursday, July 15, at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. “I don’t get to walk off stage and have a drink of water and look at my script and say, ‘OK, let’s see what’s coming next.’ You have to live in the piece. I think that’s the trick.”
Williams plays opposite Meg Clark, another GCP veteran, in an adaptation of a classic romantic tale about a young woman who writes letters to the mysterious benefactor paying for her college education. The show features music and lyrics by the Tony Award-nominated composer of “Jane Eyre: The Musical” and was a big hit Off-Broadway in 2016.
Giveaway: Win tickets to GCP’s ‘Daddy Long Legs’
I got the opportunity to interview the entire cast (which is quite easy in a two-person show) at the GCP business office, where they both work. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
DONALD: Okay, well, first of all, I am intrigued by the idea of a two-person show at Roger Rocka’s. What is it going to be like to do such a small show?
MEG: It’s definitely surreal. But it’s really nice for it to be so intimate. Luckily, we like each other.
DONALD: Do you sing to each other at work? Can you hear each other from your desks?
MEG: I don’t think there’s singing at work. We have been known to run lines on our lunch break. But yeah, luckily, you know, we spend all day together. We seem to be getting along so far.
DONALD: This is a very new show. It was recently Off Broadway.
MEG: It’s very exciting. I didn’t know the piece very well before we started, I had heard some friends mention it to me. And I thought, OK, that sounds nice. And when I finally sat down with a piece and listened to the music, I was kind of blown away by how lovely it is. It’s a beautiful, charming show.
DONALD: Shawn, you play a guy named Jervis. What a name!
SHAWN: Totally. Jervis Pendleton. Actually, it’s pretty pretentious sounding. He’s not pretentious, necessarily, although his family does have a reputation for being one of the first families in New York and all of that. But he’s a benefactor. And he’s been fortunate enough to be left with a lot of money. So he’s decided that he wants to send kids to college. Most of the time, it’s boys. But he happens to come across this one essay at the orphanage that he is the patron of. It’s written by a girl, and he just has to send her to college because she has so much potential to grow and change. So he sends her a letter. And he signs it John Smith, because he wants to remain anonymous. She writes him letter after letter. She doesn’t like that he’s calling himself John Smith. It’s too plain. And she’s full of imagination and excitement and energy. And she sings this whole song about what she’s going to call him. Is she going to call him Dear Mr. Rich Man? Is she going to call him Mister Girl Hater because he’s only ever sent boys to college? And she says, no, that’s kind of insulting, isn’t it? Well, you seem kind of tall. So how about Daddy Long Legs?
DONALD: Tell us about Jerusha Abbott, whom you play, Meg. It sounds like she has a cheeky side to her personality.
MEG: Yes, definitely cheeky. She’s very spunky. She has this beautiful imagination. We meet her when she’s 18. She gets this letter that she’s going to be sent to college and she doesn’t know who the benefactor is, but she kind of catches his shadow as he’s leaving. And it’s, you know, sort of distorted by the lights , and she says “Oh, he kind of looks like a Daddy Long Legs.’ It tickles her after a long, rough day. So that shows her positivity, and she’s very tenacious and even in the face of growing up in an orphanage and being put upon, she can find those moments of claiming things as her own in her own little world.
SHAWN: She’s a real musical-theater heroine, She will always flip, she will always say, this has been the worst day, but you know what? I’ve decided that it’s going to be OK.
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DONALD: So you sing from these letters, but there’s also dialogue. Is that the case?
SHAWN: There’s a musical number at the beginning. And then it goes straight into dialogue. And we go back and forth. I feel that the show is kind of an operetta in the sense that all the dialogue has this beautiful underscoring. The music really informs the dialogue. And in turn, the dialogue informs the music.
DONALD: How do you describe the musical style? This is a contemporary musical, but it’s set more than 100 years ago.
MEG: I think it’s this really beautiful mix of music that feels really contemporary, but also fits really well in the turn of the century time period. There are certain numbers that make me think of Jason Robert Brown. I don’t want to call it simple because that makes it sound plain. But it’s very straightforward. It feels very stripped down to just honesty. Dance numbers don’t bother me. But I think some people who aren’t musical theater people think: Who would ever break into dance, and when is there ever a chorus line in real life? I think those people would really like this show, because there’s something very honest about the music, and it just being the inner thoughts of someone.
SHAWN: It’s very exciting to get our hands on something so new and fresh. I didn’t know the piece really at all until until we were cast. And then I started studying it. And it wasn’t really until we got into our first week of rehearsals that I really thought, Man, I like this show. And going into it further and and doing the scene work, it’s like, Man, I love this show. This is a beautiful piece. It’s really a love letter.
DONALD: Is it a love story?
SHAWN: Yes. Jervis is deciding whether he should just leave her alone, because he falls in love with her through her letters, you know, and he has to decide if he’s going to leave her alone, or if he’s going to try to act on his feelings.
DONALD: Jervis is in his 30s, so I take it that it’s not creepy, even though the “Daddy” in the title might suggest that.
MEG: It’s not creepy. But she also pictures him to be an 80-year old man, and she calls him Daddy. Because she’s never had a family, you know. And so this is her first.
DONALD: Usually on the Roger Rocka’s stage, you have titles that are either classics or big hits that people have probably seen on the Tony Awards. What are some of the challenges in doing a new show like this?
MEG: Although the show does have a small following, it’s not a big name recognition show. So that definitely is a challenge, especially if people don’t know what it’s about or what to expect.
SHAWN: It’s a bizarre title, too. “Daddy Long Legs.” What the heck is that? What am I going to see?
DONALD: What is the pitch you make to people who are mostly interested in musicals, but maybe are not very familiar with smaller, contemporary musicals?
MEG: I think, really quickly, you forget that it’s only two people, I think the story really pulls you in. It’s captivating. The writing is so beautiful that you care really deeply about these characters early on. And you want to know what happens. It feels like a little treasure that I can’t wait to share with people.
SHAWN: I think it’s important to say that it’s also funny. Jerusha Abbott has such a sense of humor. It will tickle the audience.
DONALD: It’s an interesting situation this week in terms of theater openings. Selma is opening “Head over Heels,” which I’ve never seen. And Good Company is opening “Daddy Long Legs,” which I’ve never seen. And so I made the decision not to listen to the music to either show beforehand, which is very rare for me, because usually, I practically have the whole score memorized. So I’m looking forward to that a lot. What are your thoughts about seeing a show cold?
MEG: I think, especially for us theater folks, that can be very rare. And it always has to be deliberate, like you said. And I think it’s really exciting when it happens. You just get to let it kind of wash over you.
DONALD: Well, it’s like being on Broadway and seeing a brand new show that nobody’s seen.
MEG: And both of those titles are Valley premieres. I have really dear friends in that show. A big group from “Head Over Heels” is coming to see our show Sunday, and then we’re heading over there to watch their show Sunday night. And so it just feels like the community is back doing exciting things and supporting each other. And that’s just so encouraging.
DONALD: Is it a lot more pressure with just the two of you?
SHAWN: You know, you have to live in the piece. The trick is not to stop and think, what’s my next line? What I’ve discovered is, the trick is to be in the piece and to listen to what she’s saying. Because it all informs. Every line is informed by the line before it because it just flows so beautifully. But it is pressure because it’s just the two of us. And if one of us drops a line, it’s the other one’s responsibility to pick it up.
MEG: It’s funny, there’s such a duality to the show, because Shawn was saying it feels like an operetta. And to me, it feels like a straight play. Because of how many lines we have. This is definitely the biggest line load I’ve ever had. And like Shawn said, there’s no chance to go off stage and regroup. It’s a marathon.
DONALD: I love what you have to say about living in the piece. The great illusion of theater is that when the characters leave the stage, they stay those characters, but like you say, you’re drinking water, you’re doing a cartwheel with the kids …
SHAWN: Using the restroom, having some Cheetos …
DONALD: And then, boom, you’re magically back. So it must be a very different experience for both of you.
MEG: It is a treat, as tiring as it can be it. It makes you feel a real unique camaraderie with the audience. Because there is that separation, like you said, when you go off stage and the audience is still experiencing the show. So we’re all in it together. And there’s something really exciting about that, that you really do feel immersed, just like the audience is.
DONALD: Anything else to add?
MEG: I would just really encourage people to come see it. I think it’s lovely. Just come support live local theater, because we’re back.
SHAWN: And if you want us to stay …
MEG: If you want us to say, please, come support. You know, I think we’re all so used to having spent so much time at home and watching movies at home or whatever. But being with other people, and being able to be in a room full of strangers really is exciting. And there’s something to be said about that energy that I just don’t think you get anywhere else.