arts & entertainment
A scene from
Daddy Long Legs
ased on a turn-of-the century
novel, musical theater piece rings_ __
true for today.
place in the social milieu into which she's
thrown:' says Balaban, a New Yorker also
interviewed by phone. "I think we've all
oth the composer and associ-
been someplace where we did not fit in,
ate director of Daddy Long Legs,
thought it was important to do so and
without each other knowing,
didn't know how."
have a common bond beyond the general
Daddy Long Legs, with script and direc-
tion by John Caird, is a coming-of-age pro-
They share an overriding connection
duction set at the turn of the 20th century.
to one song in the show: "The Secret of
Jerusha Abbott, played by Christy
Altomare, is an orphan allowed to develop
Paul Gordon, composer and lyricist, and her mind and spirit by an anonymous
Nell Balaban, associate direc-
benefactor, Jervis Pendleton, played
tor, understand the impor-
by Kevin Earley. The benefactor, a
tance of living in the moment
school trustee, has read an essay by
as described in the lyrics.
Jerusha and requires only that she
The song can be heard in the
write to him monthly though he will
context of the play as it runs
through Oct. 30 at the Gem
The girl's experiences, mostly told
Theatre in Detroit.
in the letters addressed to the man
"The show is based on the
she secretly has dubbed, "Daddy Long
1912 novel by Jean Webster,
Legs:' includes a life-changing dis-
Paul Gordo n
and there was a line in the
covery. In his review for the Detroit
book that said the secret of
Free Press, John Monaghan called the
happiness is living in the now','
production "a surprisingly satisfying,
says Gordon, interviewed in a
must-see night of Broadway-caliber
phone conversation from his
Hollywood Hills home.
This is the third stage adapta-
"In today's culture, that
tion of novels by women featuring
sounds like a very modern
Gordon's music. The Tony-nominated
thing to say, but the line struck Associate
composer has worked on Emma and
me as coming from somebody Director N ell
ahead of her time. I relate to
"I loved thinking about the minds
that song more than any other
of female writers and exploring how
because it reminds me to stay in the pres-
to musicalize a lot of the profound thoughts
ent moment, and that's always a good mes-
and witticisms each author has within her
own view of life,' explains Gordon, a baby
Balaban thinks of the spiritual discover- boomer. "Being a pop songwriter for many
ies necessary to accepting the present for
years, I got tired of writing about myself'
what it is and also especially relates to the
Gordon, who wrote "The Next Time
song "Like Other Girls:' which she thinks
I Fall," recorded by Peter Cetera and
introduces another message offering uni-
Amy Grant, learned piano and guitar
as a youngster and studied music at a
"It's about a girl trying to find her
California community college.
October 20 • 2011
"I went out into the world and started
writing pop songs:' says Gordon, whose
religious ties have to do with Jewish
community centers, where he has been a
music director and where his girlfriend
After assignments as a staff writer for
recording companies, he gave his attention
"Working on songs for musicals is a
process of trial and error," he says. "With
Jane Eyre, we decided to musicalize a lot
of places where we later realized we didn't
"By the time we started to work on
Daddy Long Legs, we had a better sense
of where the songs would belong in the
storytelling. I also looked for words in the
novel that jumped out at me.
"When Jerusha describes how she
doesn't fit in with other girls, that seemed
like an obvious place to write a song; 'Like
Other Girls' came from that."
Balaban, who summered as an
Interlochen camper, believes the Daddy
Long Legs music honors the source mate-
rial in the novel.
"I go to each city where the show is
being done and make sure it's our show:'
says Balaban, 47, and also in Detroit as
associate director of Golda's Balcony star-
ring Valerie Harper and as a cast member
of The Exonerated with Lynn Redgrave.
"In some cases, I rehearse with new
actors; in Detroit, we have two brand-
new actors who are absolutely wonderful.
Sometimes, we find fresh elements for the
Balaban, whose love for theater began
when her maternal grandparents took
her to a show in Chicago, descends from
a paternal line of theater builders in the
same city. Her cousin is actor-director
Bob Balaban, and another relative, Barney
Balaban, was president of Paramount
"I had a brilliant high school drama
teacher who launched a lot of careers:'
recalls Balaban. "I went to New York
University briefly and faded out to work
as an actor.
"I worked regionally and got my Actors'
Equity card in Minneapolis doing Fiddler
on the Roof in dinner theater. I moved to
Los Angeles with a friend and started a
"Going back and forth to New York for
acting jobs, I did some plays with Tony
Randall and then got involved with the
musical Jane Eyre in development. I also
was in [the TV series] Law & Order and
Balaban describes assisting directors as
feeling "natural and great."
"I'm developing another musical with
Paul Gordon:' says Balaban, who identifies
as culturally Jewish and is single. "It's an
"I'm also taking Daddy Long Legs to
other cities. On the road, I see that the
musical, very different from the movie
with the same title, has wide appeal." 1 -1
Daddy Long Legs continues through Oct. 30 at the Gem Theatre, 333 Madison
Ave., Detroit. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Thursday
and 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Also ending its run on Oct. 30, at the Century
Theatre, is Freud's Last Session, with shows 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and
2:30 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. $39.50-$44.50. (313) 963-9800;