The Phoenix Theatre Company gay Associate Artistic Director Robert Kolby Harper uses his growing up in his native Atlanta family that never mentioned homosexuality to help him develop a straight but unusual relationship in “Daddy Long Legs,” a musical he staged.
Harper didn’t know much about the show but when he listened to the score he was “enchanted.” Although the show is set at the turn-of-the-last-century, he feels “the music lives in the then and the now.” The show outlines a relationship between wealthy Jervis Pendleton who uses his money to send boys without means to college. As an orphanage trustee, he discovers Jerusha Abbott and asks that she write him but says he will never meet her.
Her sophisticated letters and essays are imaginative and clever as Jerusha displays a brilliant mind that ultimately stimulate the pair’s relationship. Harper says the “musical is told through their letters and she develops the name Daddy Long Legs for Jervis because, from her vantage point and using her impression, she senses he is super tall.”
Harper says the pair have always been alone something Harper felt growing up a gay man in Georgia where he felt completely alienated and had great fear. “I was acutely aware of being an outsider like both Jerusha and Jervis. People told me at 10-11 that they didn’t want me around children.”
Harper has been in the theater for many years spending the last 19 at The Phoenix Theatre Company where he works behind the scenes on many projects but also directs shows every season. He has learned a lot about various facets of theater in his current position but now Harper must begin to think about transitioning from TPTC so he can round out his arts experiences. He’s started down that alternative path by teaching part-time at ASU and he “enjoys sharing his theatrical knowledge with his students.”
He also hopes “to find a partner” something his long hours working in the theater doesn’t allow. He needs to find a place in theater that would allow him time for a mate. He doesn’t necessarily want to be an artistic director in one theater but instead would like to be able to move from theater-to-theater so he can have different experiences.
He reminds me “that theater and the arts are not considered essential but that it is imperative that this perception change.”
“Daddy Long Legs” plays at The Phoenix Theatre Company through July 18. For tickets, call The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.
Chris Curcio reviews local theater on his website www.curtainupphoenix.com.