In a way, this is a bold move for the consistently exciting Barn Theatre: a little-known musical, based on a little-known novel, by a composer who’s almost never had his work performed in this country. The theatre is trusting that, 18 months since opening, audiences will be sold not on brand recognition, but on the quality of the work.
They’d be right. This two-hander – sort of an epistolary musical – is pure charm and romance, a gorgeous little chamber piece put together skilfully by director Kirstie Davis with a fantastic leading performance from Rebecca Jayne-Davies.
Jean Webster’s 1912 novel is about a girl, Jerusha Abbott, rescued from an orphanage by a mysterious benefactor. He sends her to college and demands she write him a letter every month. But she is never allowed to meet him. All she knows is the elongated silhouette she saw as he left the orphanage, so she precociously christens him “Daddy Long Legs”.
Legendary director John Caird wrote the book, while Paul Gordon’s music – orchestrated for piano, cello and guitar – contains whispers of Alan Menken and Jason Robert Brown with a folky edge. It’s a restless piece, zipping from one scene to the next under Davis’ fluid staging .
Davies acts as well as she sings; her Jerusha is a loveable lead who brings the proto-feminist themes of the story to the fore.
It’s a production that never lets go of the audience’s attention, whose soppiness is easily forgiven, and another rock solid piece of work brimming with talent from the Barn Theatre.