As co-director of The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickeby and Les Miserables, John Caird was intimately involved in the RSC’s two signature theatrical events of the 1980s, both of them giant, sweeping theatrical epics. It led to a rash of stage adaptations of popular novels in through-sung musicals; Caird himself sought to repeat the winning formula with a Broadway musical based on Jane Eyre in 2000, co-written with composer Paul Gordon, but it only ran for six months.
Megan McGinnis (Jerusha Abbott) and Robert Adelman Hancock (Jervis Pendleton) in Daddy Long Legs at St James Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Now they’ve teamed up again for a show on an altogether different dramatic register and canvas, to produce a modest, enchantingly low-key two-hander musical based on another novel, Jean Webster’s 1912 book Daddy Long Legs. The story has previously been the basis of a 1952 British musical called Love from Judy, but this new, already much travelled version has been widely produced across the US since its 2009 premiere by the Rubicon Theatre Company in California.
In a series of musical letters between Megan McGinnis as a young orphan to the mystery benefactor who sponsors her education, it charts a growing, unusual love affair that may also be a slightly creepy case of a man grooming a prospective partner. But Gordon’s own charmingly tuneful score banishes those doubts, and it is beautifully performed by the Clark Kent-like Robert Adelman Hancock and Megan McGinnis, reprising the roles they created in the show’s original production. Caird’s artful production is handsomely staged on David Farley’s set which offers brilliant projected vistas of other locations, and musical director Caroline Humphris presides over a live offstage band of five other members with discreet class.
Daddy Long Legs opens in London in the same week as a major new Broadway revival of Annie - the story of another orphan and her benefactor - reaches the stage. The two productions couldn’t be more different, but there’s room for both in our theatrical landscape.