Robert Adelman Hancock and Megan McGinnis in Daddy Long Legs. Photo by Jeanne Tanner

If you crave actual Broadway qualities in a stage production, you must see Arizona Theatre Company‘s Daddy Long Legs.

John Caird, the creator of Les Miserables and three other Broadway plays, again reaches back in history to pluck out a fun, entertaining story. The composer Paul Gordon, Tony winner for his only Broadway appearance to date, Jane Eyre, wrote the lyrics and score.

The female lead, Megan McGinnis, with five Broadway productions in her resume, created anew the role established by Ruth Chatterton oh, so long ago – with gifted direction, a precious libretto, and a competent male lead, Robert Hancock, accompanying her.

Daddy Long Legs is celebrating its centennial this year, written first in serial novel, then dramatic form by Jean Webster, the daughter of one of Mark Twain’s publishers, as a series of letters between an orphan to the unknown benefactor who paid her way through college.

The play did a short stint on Broadway, toured America for years, was made twice into a movie – once starring Mary Pickford, once Leslie Caron (accompanied by none other than Fred Astaire), and disappeared from American bookshelves, stages and movie theaters for the past 55 years or so.

I’ve read that Caird got the story from his Japanese wife, learning that it remains popular there and in France. I leave it to you to ponder why as you see the play.

Megan McGinnis in Arizona Theatre Company's Daddy Long Legs. Photo by Tim Fuller/ATC

I haven’t read the book, original script nor prior treatments, but in this treatment the character exposition and development from a relatively ignorant, immature girl to a self assured early 20th Century college graduate is handled deftly and feels utterly true. I have a 19 1/2 year old daughter and have recently witnessed that age-sensitive metamorphosis. I won’t describe the plot further, so that you can see it unfold for the first time.

Professionals at the top of their game have touched this production throughout and I once again experienced the magic of theater. The audience gave a spontaneous, universal and enthusiastic standing ovation to send the actors home from their Phoenix Premiere.

ATC has now survived, actually thrived, into its 45th Season. With Sunday’s Phoenix premiere of Daddy Long Legs, it is easy to see why. ATC has brought to us a Broadway bound musical. Or maybe not – Broadway is already booked, and there may be union regs against the headcount. But in the meantime, the show has been sold out for most of its two-year tour. I’d be surprised if the Valley didn’t welcome it the same way. And tickets are available for half the price they’ll fetch on Broadway.

Featured Photo credit: Tim Fuller/Arizona Theatre Company

If you go

Event: Arizona Theatre Company’s Daddy Long Legs

Where: Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix, 85004

When: Opens Wednesday, January 4 and runs through January 15, 2012

Buy Tickets: Online or call(602) 256-6995