Daddy-Long-Legs [St James Theatre]

Music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, book by John Caird, based on the novel by Jean Webster [UK premiere]

Jervis Pendleton – Robert Adelman Hancock
Jerusha Abbot – Megan McGinnis

The Band: Laura Stanford (violin), Jessica Cox (cello), Danny Short (guitars), Mat Elliott (bass guitar), Hugh Wilkinson (percussion)Caroline Humphries (musical director & keyboards)

John Caird – Director
David Farley – Scenic & Costume Designer
Andrew Bruce – Sound Designer
Paul Toben – Lighting Designer

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 10 November, 2012
Venue: St James Theatre, Victoria, London

Jean Webster’s book Daddy-Long-Legs is one-hundred years old. It was written as an epistolary novel in which the American heroine, Jerusha Abbot, is writing from the orphanage where she lives to an anonymous benefactor who has agreed to subsidise her college education. He is Jervis Pendleton but is known to Jerusha only as ‘John Smith’. She calls him ‘Daddy-Long-Legs’ when she sees a shadow outline of him with his long legs like the titular insect. It has always been an immensely popular book for girls growing up, a sort of prototypical chick-lit with which adolescent females can identify. Jerusha is a feisty young lady desperate to be independent and get on in life, competing with men at their own game. She looks forward to getting the vote one day.

No doubt it is still a good read, but transferring it to the stage for a musical with just two characters, is stretching credulity more than somewhat. It has been adapted for the cinema – Mary Pickford starred in the 1919 silent-film, Shirley Temple was in a 1935 version called Curly Top, and Leslie Caron co-starred with Fred Astaire in the 1955 film-musical film, although with a much-changed plot. It had been a stage musical before that, called Love from Judy (1952). In Japan it was a television special in 1979, then a TV serial in 1990 and it has also been made as films in Korea and India.

This new production first appeared in 2009 by the Rubicon Theatre Company of Ventura, California, with the current cast, although before that Paul Gordon and John Caird tried it as a one-woman show and then with a dance company, but the latter proved too expensive to tour. As a two-hander there is still very little for the male role as most of the show consists of Jerusha reading or singing her letters to the man she has never met. Jervis also takes part in this correspondence course, sometimes reading her words and reacting to them; a one-way journey for Jerusha’s letters.

It works up to a point, although the songs are not particularly memorable and is mostly through-sung and even through-played, the music continuing as Jerusha reveals her thoughts to the audience. There is no denying the talents of the two performers. Megan McGinnis has a very good, clear singing voice and she manages to get over the material in such a way that we can believe every mood, and coming over the footlights with great force. Robert Adelman Hancock presents a solid figure as the buttoned-up and slightly embarrassed Jervis Pendleton who finds it hard to understand his charge and her outpourings.

Daddy-Long-Legs sits comfortably on the stage of the handsome new St James Theatre, the intimate nature of which is a great asset to the show. If you look hard enough there is much to enjoy in this simple staging and David Farley’s evocative sets and costumes. But don’t go expecting an Astaire-Caron Hollywood-style musical; instead enjoy an evening of traditional homely entertainment, a labour of love for Paul Gordon and John Caird, whose production should appeal to the sentimental among us.

  • Daddy-Long-Legs is at St James Theatre, Palace Street, London SW1 until Saturday 8 December 2012
  • Monday to Saturday 7.30 p.m., matinees Wednesday & Saturday 2.30
  • Tickets 0844 264 2140

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