Megan McGinnis in Daddy Long Legs Photo: Jeanne Tanner
Published: 15 November, 2012
by JULIA RANK
HAVING toured the United States, Paul Gordon and John Caird’s musical adaptation of Jean Webster’s 1912 epistolary novel Daddy Long Legs arrives at London’s newest theatre, making for a very charming evening – in spite of the music.
Charting the coming of age of foundling Jerusha Abbott, sent to college by a “Mr John Smith” on the condition that she writes him monthly letters, she nicknames him Daddy Long Legs (it doesn’t do to be cynical about the implications of this pet name) after she catches a brief glimpse of his lanky silhouette.
Through her one-sided correspondence, this stranger becomes the family she never had.
Placing the two protagonists who don’t meet on honest terms until the end on stage together removes the (admittedly predictable) twist, but it does exploit the dramatic irony of the situation.
Jerusha’s unexpectedly youthful benefactor Jervis Pendleton (Robert Adelman Hancock) is the oddball of his snobbish family, a bachelor set in his ways, but gradually captivated by his correspondent’s original way of seeing things.
The show is anchored by Megan McGinnis’s ebulliently sunny performance as Jerusha, a clump of raw talent moulded into a freethinker, feminist and Fabian by her education, rising above her loveless, institutional upbringing with an extraordinary lack of bitterness.
The songs all merge into one and there’s nothing evocative of the turn-of-the-century setting in Gordon’s score. His lyrics, many of which are adapted directly from the novel with added rhymes, feature numerous witty touches, exposing the pretentiousness of “old” families and a letter in the style of a thesis proposal.
Underneath the froth, Jean Webster was a visionary in her advocacy of education for women and reform in orphanages. The romance’s intellectual basis is a breath of fresh air, wrapping things up with a contented sigh.
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