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Friday, 2 November 2012

Daddy Long Legs - St James Theatre - Thursday 1 November *****


My first visit to this lovely new theatre tucked away between Victoria and St James and the UK premiere of a new musical based on Jean Webster’s 100 year old novel. With a book by John Caird, who also directs, and music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, this production has toured the US, Canada and beyond to great acclaim with plans afoot to take it to New York (Broadway, off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway, who knows?).

Following spunky 18 year old orphan and burgeoning feminist, Jerusha Abbott, as she makes her way through college at the start of the 20th century, she is supported by a mysterious anonymous benefactor she has nicknamed Daddy Long Legs. We are privy to the hopes and dreams of a teenage girl as she blossoms into a young woman, who would have otherwise been denied the opportunities now offered had it not been for her charitable sponsor.

The story is told via the monthly letters Jerusha is expected to write to her patron to which she is informed she will not receive a reply. Jerusha builds an image of a kindly, if distant, elderly gentleman in whom she can confide her innermost thoughts.

With a cast of two who both created the original roles in the US,  Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock, this is a buttoned up love story that actually has much in common with Howard Goodall’s wonderful Love Story that briefly graced the West End a couple of years ago. With a gorgeous tuneful score, intelligent witty lyrics and book and beautiful engaging performances from McGinnis and Hancock this chamber musical stretches it’s arms to push against the confines of the form. Effortlessly drawing me into another world for two glorious hours, caring for the figments of someone else’s imagination, as Jerusha takes her tentative steps as an adult and Daddy finds something more than charity to fulfil his soul.

From opposite sides of the social divide, McGinnis’s Jerusha knows her place but is eager to learn and has a open watery smile threatens to turn to tears in an instant. Hancock’s Daddy, a potent mix of James Stewart’s George Bailey and Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent, is aching to break free of his starchy Manhattan existence and has a secret that threatens to tear their worlds apart.

Both are on stage throughout and both are a wonder, captivating, enchanting and with the freshness and bounce of a pair of pups that belies the amount of times they must have said the same lines and sung the same songs. It really is a coup for us in London to be able to witness these incredible young actors weave their magic.

With a mini orchestra of violin, cello, piano, guitar, bass and drums boxing above their weight and filling the steeply raked auditorium with Paul Gordon’s inventively melodic songs, I truly was transported.

The fesitiness of McGinnis's Jerusha and the slow thaw of Hancock's Daddy ensure that the evening never descends into schmaltz, but be prepared to be whisked away on the yearning wings of young love.

I adored this show (obvs) but I am well aware that it won’t be to everyone’s taste. I nabbed a cast recording on my way out of the theatre which I know I will only be playing when I’m home alone, but for incurable romantics everywhere this is one not to be missed. If we’re going for broad strokes, think Love Story meets Phantom of the Opera with a smidgen of Great Expectations (no not the Mike Reid one) and you’re almost there.

Booking until 8 December 2012, one for incurable romantics everywhere - Daddy Long Legs

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