‘HALF A SIXPENCE’: Charlie Stemp & company. Photo: Manuel Harlan

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Book by Julian Fellowes
Music & lyrics by George Stiles & Anthony Drewe
Co-author of original music & lyrics by David Heneker MBE
Co-author of original music by Beverly Cross
Choreography by Andrew Wright
Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh
Through September 2, 2017
Noël Coward Theatre
St. Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4AU
0844 482 5140,www.halfasixpence.co.uk/


By David NouNou


Half A Sixpence is one of the little gems that came to Broadway in 1965, lasted for about 15 months at the Broadhurst Theatre, made a star out of Tommy Steele for his exuberant performance as Arthur Kipps, and has never been revived, and that is a great pity. It is an absolutely charming musical that had a very British book by Beverley Cross and a music hall score by David Heneker that was a delicious bonbon one just wanted to savor. The sad part wasn’t that it was very British in nature and people didn’t get it in America. It unfortunately opened at the wrong time; right after Hello, Dolly, Funny Girl, and Fiddler on the Roof. How could such a guileless, gentle musical compete against those mega-giants?

It was wonderful to sit at the Noel Coward Theatre and revisit this little treasure, and this time with a far better performance of Arthur Kipps by the multi-talented Charlie Stemp. Mr. Stemp is far more appealing as the character, an excellent hoofer, and not the least bit cloying as his predecessor. The only regret is that the excellent score by David Heneker has been diluted by so many extemporaneous songs that prolong the proceedings instead of tightening things.

While in New Romney in 1904, Arthur splits a sixpence and gives it to his childhood sweetheart Ann (Devon-Elise Johnson). He gives the sixpence as a token of love so, when they are separated, they can always think of each other. He is sent off to Folkstone as an apprentice in Shalford’s Haberdashery and after seven years there, he meets the lovely Helen Walsington (Emma Williams). Helen is a genteel upper- cruster who comes with excess baggage: a domineering mother and a scoundrel of a brother. On a particular night after spending some time with Helen, Arthur runs into Chitterlow (Ian Bartholomew) who is an elderly actor/playwright who, after a drunken spree, informs Kipps that he is the heir of a great fortune. This throws Arthur into a spin. He is infatuated by Helen but he knows he doesn’t fit in with the upper class. However, her family latches on to Arthur for his fortune because their’s has run out.

If it seems that I’m giving too much information and too much of a spoiler alert it is simply because most Americans are unfamiliar with this musical. So, Arthur proposes to Helen, and on the night of his engagement, runs into Ann who is working as a maid for the society doyenne Lady Punnet (Jane How). Arthur runs into the crossroads of love; the infatuation or the real love that was always there for him. If you want to know what happens next, you will either have to come to London to see the show or Google it.

Besides the wonderful Mr. Stemp, there is the delightful Ms. Johnson and the lovely Ms. Williams; they are both so enticing that it is virtually impossible to choose. Mr. Bartholomew adds all the right comic touches as Chitterlow, the man who enriches Kipps.

On the creative side, Andrew Wright has emulated the choreography originated by the wonderful Onna White which is a stroke of genius. Director Rachel Kavanaugh keeps the proceedings moving but is encumbered by a new book and those extemporaneous songs. The revolving, spinning sets by Paul Brown are perfect for moving the scenes seamlessly, and Paul Constable’s lighting as usual captures all the right moods.

For American theatergoers who are planning to visit London, I strongly urge you to see this little jewel because it shan’t be coming to our shores anytime too soon


Edited by Scott Harrah
Reviewed at June 22, 2017 performance in London
Published June 23, 2017

‘HALF A SIXPENCE’: Gerard Carey & Charlie Stemp. Photo: Manuel Harlan

‘HALF A SIXPENCE’: Charlie Stemp. Photo: Manuel Harlan

‘HALF A SIXPENCE’: Emma Williams & Charlie Stemp. Photo: Manuel Harlan

‘HALF A SIXPENCE’: Jane How & Vivien Parry. Photo: Manuel Harlan

‘HALF A SIXPENCE’: Charlie Stemp. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Half a Sixpence Official London Trailer

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