Jean Webster’s 1912 novel Daddy Long Legs has brought about more screen adaptations than its fear-inducing winged namesake has legs, but John Caird’s new stage version, which received its UK premiere last night following a successful tour of the States, makes for a rare winter treat.
While the show’s modest staging bears little resemblance to Scrooge The Musical, the A Christmas Carol-inspired festive spectacular that opened at the London Palladium earlier in the week, there is a touch of Dickensian charm about its romantic tale, which charts the story of orphan Jerusha as she embarks on a life-changing education thanks to a mysterious benefactor.
While Olivier Award winner Caird may be well known for his work on big musical hits – having co-directed the current West End production of Les Misérables – the cast of Daddy Long Legs is a mere two person affair, though less is certainly more when confronted with a cast formed only of Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock.
Undoubtedly the star of the show, McGinnis, who tells Jerusha’s story through the recitation of letters, combines sharp comic timing and witty impersonations with the sweetest of sweet singing voices, while Hancock’s Jervis provides her with musical – as well as financial – backing; his harmonious and emotive high notes revealing every painful pang of love, jealousy and frustration at being unable to reveal his true identity.
Paul Gordon’s score provides a seamless blend of sentimental solos and more upbeat duets, with some of the former being cleverly reprised as the latter in the second act to signify the beginning of the joyful and loving union that blossoms between the Jane Eyre-like figure and the mysterious man with whom she is in fact already acquainted.
While the dark wooden-clad study remains the focal point of the set, there is an unexpected surprise waiting behind the towering bookcase, as David Farley’s designs adapt ingeniously to the different times and locations, beautifully conveying the transition from New York’s urban skyline to the rural landscape of Lock Willow farm.
While there may be a number of highly anticipated new musicals opening in the West End over the next few months, there is no doubt that Daddy Long Legs will also have many a theatregoer caught up in its web for the duration of its run.