Two shows: one is a brand new showstopper, written by Hollywood royalty and the other is an off-Broadway production that’s been touring around the world before finding its home in New York. Seemingly two different productions bound by a common thread, and while on the outside they couldn’t be more different, their message of young women finding themselves and simultaneously creating an enduring love connects to us all.
Bluegrass Hits a High Note with a Starry Show
The highly anticipated Broadway musical with the music, book and story written by Hollywood heavyweights Steve Martin and Edie Brickell opened last month featuring a talented cast led by Carmen Cusak, making her Broadway debut as Alice Murphy and Paul Alexander Nolan as Jimmy Ray Dobbs.
The musical is unlike any other on Broadway currently—it’s an understated message with haunting Bluegrass music that takes you on one couple’s journey to recapture a loss of love that neither of them could ever be whole without.
Nolan, who grew up on a grain farm in Saskatchewan, Canada almost missed the opportunity to play Jimmy Rae. He auditioned simultaneously for Bright Star and Off-Broadway play called Daddy Long Legs when he was cast in the leading role of the latter. The day after the show opened, he received a message from his agent that he had the offer to play Jimmy Rae.
Nolan said that even though it was a tough decision to make, he had to give Bright Star a shot. “I fell in love with the script because it’s such a compelling piece of theater,” Nolan began. “It’s all on the page; I’ve never experienced that before while reading a script. It feels and reads more like a play than a typical musical script. It broke my heart reading it and I knew it was going to be powerful.”
And working with the likes of Martin and Brickell has also been a dream come true. “Their stellar reputation and fame doesn’t enter into the room at all. They are very humble and generous people, but of course they’re both brilliant. You get the benefit of their brilliance without the baggage. There’s no ego.”
Nolan really embraced the challenge of playing both a younger and older version of Jimmy Rae. “I do really connect to Jimmy Rae as he represents two polar opposite sides of myself. I love getting to visit that kind of invincible view of the world that Jimmy Rae starts with. Having lived some years myself since, I’ve also seen life and grief and tragedy and I get the complexity of a character as an older person as well. It’s a gift to be able to connect with that,” he explained. At the heart of this production, is a beautifully touching music that demonstrates a poignant story of love, loss and finding faith again, even in the face of extreme adversity.
Daddy Long Legs – Theater Connecting the Masses
If you’re a softie for a good love letter, like I am, you’ll certainly be bewitched by the Off-Broadway musical Daddy Long Legs at the Davenport Theater directed by John Caird. Based on the original book written by Jean Webster in the early 1900s, the show provides an intimate expression of the two main characters—Jerusha and Jervis—played respectively by real-life husband and wife team, Adam Halpin and Megan McGinnis. The plot develops with a young woman’s evolution and how her deep romantic relationship with her benefactor blossomed through the power of the pen.
“For Jerusha, when she is talking to the audience, she’s talking to Daddy Long Legs which automatically creates a bond between the actor and the audience,” said McGinnis of the role that she has played for the last seven years of her life.
McGinnis, who originated the role of Jerusha, has worked closely with Caird and musical director Paul Gordon for several years, taking the show on the road nationally and internationally, before settling into their off-Broadway home at the Davenport. The creative team was sent into a tailspin, however, when then-leading man Paul Alexander Nolan was called to take a starring role in Steve Martin’s Bright Star.
After countless auditions, Caird and lyricist Paul Gordon suggested that McGinnis’ husband Halpin, take a stab at the role. Before long, the cast and crew realized Halpin was the perfect fit and the show reopened with a new Jervus.
The show went through a maturation process, explained McGinnis, who said Gordon created a few new songs to originally showcase Nolan in the role when it came to Off- Broadway. In her mind, the music and the story kept growing and changing, getting better with age and now she gets to share the stage every night with her husband as an added bonus.
Most recently in December, the show was the first of its kind to be streamed live online in an attempt to bring the power of Broadway to the masses. The show was seen by a total of 150,055 people in 135 countries around the world as far reaching as Syria, Tanzania, Jordan and Fiji.
What live streaming represents is that Broadway touches the masses. The message of hope for the future and the concept of everyone finding their true love is universal, and that the power of song can bring great joy to the world.