Malia Tippets was backstage at a Christmas revue in South Carolina that she had a part in when she collapsed. “I had an ovarian cyst that had toppled over my fallopian tube, and it was so painful that my body just shut down,” Tippets says. “I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t have time to tell my parents what was going on. It was insane. It was wild.”
After Tippets went home to Battleground, Wash., Joe Theissen—who had directed her in a production of Anything Goes at the Lakewood Center for the Arts and had asked her out to a Blazer game before she left for South Carolina—helped her recover. “When I came home, he came and took care of me,” Tippets says. “So that was kind of a weird way to get into a relationship, but that’s how that went.”
Today, Tippets and Theissen are still together—and they’re also the stars of Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s soon-to-be-streaming production of the 2009 musical Daddy Long Legs, which is being directed by Sharon Maroney, who founded Broadway Rose in 1992 with her husband, Dan Murphy.
“There’s no revenue for the Broadway Rose [right now], zero,” says Theissen, who is also the musical theater company’s development manager. “We’re still getting individual donations and we’ve got good COVID-relief funding, but they were really, really intent on doing something that they could have some sort of artistic revenue for.”
DADDY LONG LEGS IS THAT SOMETHING. Based on a 1912 novel by Jean Webster, it’s the story of Jerusha Abbott (Tippets), a young woman whisked from a New England orphanage by a mysterious benefactor known as Daddy Long Legs, who pays for her to go to college. Unbeknownst to Jerusha, Daddy Long Legs is actually Jervis Pendleton (Theissen), a dashing, wealthy man who falls for her (and who happens to be the uncle of one of her roommates).
While the story’s narrative architecture makes it sound like a standard-issue Cinderella saga, Tipppets sees something more. “I think to call it a Cinderella story is to do a disservice to Jerusha,” she says. “People call it that all the time—rags to riches, Cinderella story, this damsel in distress gets swept up because she has a kind heart. Jerusha doesn’t want to be loved for a kind heart. She wants to be loved because she’s capable.”
Telling Jerusha’s story (which is related through letters) tested Broadway Rose’s adaptability. Since Tippets and Theissen live together, they didn’t have to be socially distanced onstage, but the production still had to adhere to strict anti-COVID measures. Maroney says that masks were worn and that everyone involved had to have their temperature taken and answer questions about their health (including whether they had recently lost their sense of smell or taste).
Daddy Long Legs was never going to be a “normal” production—and when wildfires scorched the West Coast, it became even less normal than anticipated. To combat the hazardous air quality, box fans with filters placed around the stage at Broadway Rose’s theatre, the New Stage (which is a renovated elementary school cafetorium in Tigard), but Maroney still felt compelled to ask Tippets and Theissen if they wanted to stop rehearsing.
“Sharon gave us the opportunity to say, ‘We don’t feel safe, we don’t feel like this is healthy, we don’t want to do this,’” Tippets says. “And Joe and I then had to make a decision.”
Tippets and Theissen chose to persist, and as a result, Daddy Long Legs will be ready for streaming on Friday, October 9. The filmed version will fuse footage from two performances, both of which were shot with three cameras. “It’s not like other times when we’ve had shows videotaped, where somebody shows up and sits in the back of the theatre and just turns on a camera,” Maroney says. “This is going to have a great deal of artistry in the way the show is filmed.”
Daddy Long Legs will be Broadway Rose’s first production since the superhero comedy Up and Away—and it will probably be scrutinized by fans eager to see the company make a suave transition to the screen. But whatever happens, the play has already led to one happy ending. At rehearsal last Friday, Tippets proposed to Theissen onstage. Not only did he say yes (“This is the path we’ve been on pretty much since we met,” he says), but the couple got married right then and there (the ceremony was performed by Dan Murphy, who is ordained).
“BOTH OF US, I THINK, had the same reaction afterwards, which was defiance,” Tippets says. “Take that, 2020. We will not drift off into despair. There’s love to be had, there’s celebration to be had, there’s art to be had. I knew that I wanted to do this and it was 100 percent about wanting to be married to this person, and then the bonus was, ‘I will not let 2020 be a wasted year.’”
Daddy Long Legs forges a spiritual link between its now-married stars and the fictional couple at its center. Tippets and Theissen seem to thrive on shared challenges (they recently embarked on a diet together that required them to give up dairy and sugar), a connection mirrored by the bond between Jerusha and Jervis.
“She falls in love with the man who tests her and challenges her and is able to meet her on her intellectual level, not the fun playboy who’s got money to throw around to buy her these nice things,” Tippets says. “What she wants is intellectual fulfillment. And that, to me, is like, what a hero. What a female hero.”
Hopefully, Jerusha’s heroism will help bolster Broadway Rose (the company has delayed two of its upcoming productions, A Christmas Carol and Loch Lomond, to 2021). “I know that my theater’s special,” Tippets says. “So I hope, I hope, I hope people will set aside some time for themselves, get a ticket, sit down, take a deep breath, turn off the news, enjoy some theatre for two hours, grab their families, grab a blanket, make some popcorn. It’ll be worth it. You’ll be happier after it than you were before.”
Daddy Long Legs will stream October 9-25. Tickets and scheduling information at: https://www.broadwayrose.org/daddy-long-legs/