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Theater company goes against norm to bring 'Daddy Long Legs' to ArtsLab

Scotty Frank and Sierra Harber star in all for One’s two-person musical Daddy Long Legs, opening Feb. 17 at PPG ArtsLab.

Emma Bachtel

Whatzup Features Writer

Published February 8, 2023

all for One productions will be putting on a musical adaptation of Jean Webster’s novel, Daddy Long Legs. For all the arachnophobe audience members out there, don’t worry: It’s not about spiders!

According to afO’s website, this musical tells the story of Jerusha Abbott, “an orphan from the John Greer Home, who receives a marvelous gift: one of the trustees wants to grant her an all-expense paid college education. The catch? He won’t tell her anything about himself, including his name … but he wants her to write to him every month. We watch Jerusha mature to womanhood as she discovers more and more about herself. But will she ever discover the identity of her benefactor?”

This G-rated romantic musical, starring Scotty Frank and Sierra Harber, is perfect for the entire family and will be running Feb. 17-19 and Feb. 24-26 at Parkview Physicians ArtsLab at 300 E. Main St. in Fort Wayne.

Breaking from the norm

“Everyone always thinks this is a show about spiders when they hear the title,” said Mary Beth Frank, who will be directing the two-person musical.

You may recognize Frank’s name from a myriad of places, but afO audience members will recognize her from her directorial debut of Mary’s Wedding last year. Frank skillfully directed that dramatic and deeply moving two-person show, and everyone who saw it was able to recognize her prowess as a director due to the stunning, powerful performances from Jessica Munsie and Cooper Beer.

Frank has also been the director of numerous shows for Fire and Light Productions.

“We don’t do musicals super often,” said Stacey Kuster, afO’s executive director. “This is the first time that afO will be doing a nationally syndicated musical.”

afO has put on only two other musicals in their 31-year history, both of which were written by local authors. In 2015, they performed Bend Us by Dave Frincke, a pastor at Heartland Church, and, in 2018, David by Sam Ward, a worship pastor at Emmanuel Community Church. 

The process for producing this show has been much different from afO’s typical method. One of the most notable differences is there are two understudies.

“We don’t usually cast understudies for our plays, but the roles in Daddy Long Legs are very vocally demanding,” Kuster said.

This show, according to Frank, is 95 percent singing.

“The understudies are necessary in this show in case one of our actors gets sick, or just needs a vocal break,” Kuster said. “The amount of singing required in this show can be extremely taxing on the vocalists.”

The understudies attend every rehearsal and are scheduled to perform Sunday, Feb. 19.

“I have been working with the four actors simultaneously, the two leads and two understudies, and the understudies get just as much practice time,” Frank said.

Strike up the band

In addition to the outstanding vocal performance that the audience will be treated to in this show, there will be live music performed by local musicians. These musicians include Dan VanAmerongen on acoustic and bass guitar, Andrew Shane on percussion, DJ Adams on cello, and Grace Ashley on piano.

“We have a really talented group of musicians performing with us for this show,” Frank said. “This is Grace’s first time accompanying a musical, so that’s very exciting, too!”

Between rehearsing with the actors and coordinating with the musicians, Frank has her hands full.

“We’re really grateful to have Mary Beth directing,” Kuster said. “Normally, there would be a music director to help the main director, but Mary Beth is doing both jobs herself for this show, and she’s doing a phenomenal job.”

According to Kuster, this is only the second time afO has had live music, so this will be a unique experience for the audience.

What’s With the Title?

Remember how we said this show is not actually about spiders? 

“So, Jerusha doesn’t know who her benefactor is, but there is one scene where she sees him leave a building as a car drives by,” Frank said. “The headlights of the car cause a spider-like image to be cast on the wall of a building, which is why she decides to address him as Daddy Long Legs.”

Kuster said Jerusha perceives her benefactor as being an older gentleman, almost a grandfather figure, instead of a contemporary.

“When she’s writing these letters to Daddy Long Legs, she’s picturing that she’s writing to this sweet, old man.”

And, like all afO shows, there is a deeper lesson to be learned in addition to the entertainment value of the musical.

“Much of the show revolves around this huge secret: If he’ll tell her and how he’ll tell her the truth,” Kuster said. “It makes for a wonderful, engaging story, and also, I think, really highlights how deception can impact relationships and cause inadvertent hurts that require a lot of love and forgiveness to overcome.”

Despite all the secrets, there is a happy end to this show.

“She chooses love over everything else,” Frank said. “I think it’s just a beautiful picture of forgiveness and grace.”

This is a show filled with firsts for afO, so if you have never had the opportunity to attend one of their magnificent shows, this could be a perfect first for you, too.

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