Phil Willmott

Half a Sixpence comes to London

Half a Sixpence I'm very excited to here at the Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of the classic British musical HALF A SIXPENCE is transferring to the West End.

It was a big hit in the West End and on Broadway in the 1960s and there was a popular film starring Tommy Steele but it’s always been a financial disaster when it’s been revived since. Regional tours and a big revival at West Yorkshire playhouse just didn’t attract an audience.

Producer Cameron Macintosh has set out to fix problems he perceived in the script by getting in Julian Fellows, who wrote TV’s DOWNTON ABBEY and who has just written a new West-End bound version of WIND IN THE WILLOWS, to fix things. He’s also got in song writer’s Stiles and Drew to write a couple of new numbers. He’s successfully done this before with his stage version of MARY POPPINS.

The result has divided the critics and audiences commentating on social media. I’ve read equal numbers of reports claiming it’s soulless and botched as I have saying it’s a triumph. Reviews were either lukewarm or ecstatic so what will London theatre goers make of it?

Recently classic musicals like GUYS AND DOLLS and SHOWBOAT have had to close early due to lack of audiences but on the other hand GYPSY and FUNNY GIRL have been smash hits. At least Cameron Macintosh can take comfort from sales at Chichester where it’s reported to be the venue’s fastest-selling ever.

There are no celebrities in the cast but everyone’s hoping this revival will catapult new comer Charlie Stemp, in the Tommy Steele role of Arthur Kipps, to stardom. Apparently he’s amazing. The entire Chichester cast of the musical will reprise their roles, including leads, Devon-Elise Johnson, Ian Bartholomew and Emma Williams.

The show tells the Edwardian story of how shop-boy Kipps has to choose between his childhood sweet heart and a new high society love. It’s based on HG Wells novel KIPPS: THE STORY OF A SIMPLE SOUL.

The most famous song in the show is “Hold it, Flash, Bang, Wallop, What a Picture!” famously added to the original production at the last moment when a big act two showstopper was needed.

It’s the kind of high energy, toe tapping song that Andrew Wright excels at choreographing and all the reports from Chichester suggest his amazing dance routines are the highlight of the production. He’s a friend of mine and has been raving about the quality of the young dancers he’s been able to work with.

The show will run at the Noel Coward Theatre from October 29 to February 11, 2017. A press night will be held on November 17. It’s directed by Rachel Kavanaugh and designed by Paul Brown with lighting by Paule Constable and sound by Mick Potter.

Definitely a West End musical to look forward to.

Half a Sixpence tickets