Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps

It’s everything you could possibly want in a typical West End musical and then some, says Rachel Bailey following a viewing of Half a Sixpence.

A second extended booking period, the introduction of additional matinees kicking in from March, and a growing media hype about leading man Charlie Stemp; Half a Sixpence is on a roll, and for good reason.

The musical – a stage adaption of the 1967 British musical film that starred Tommy Steele – opened in the West End last autumn. The story is that of a draper's assistant called Arthur Kipps who unexpectedly inherits a fortune that propels him into high society.

Ultimately Half a Sixpence is about a misguided but kind-hearted man who has to choose between two women from opposite ends of the social scale. It’s also about the pros and cons of being rich. It’s quite a simple tale, leaving plenty of room for creativity in other areas of the production – most notably, the choreography and the score. 

The dance composition is one of the musical’s biggest highlights. It seems there was no end to the imagination of Andrew Wright who has choreographed this production. From the intricate dance steps executed by Stemp and fellow leads Devon-Elise Johnson (Ann) and Emma Williams (Helen) to the full ensemble dance numbers that flood across the stage, this musical is a visual masterpiece.

Devon-Elise Johnson and Charlie Stemp

Pictured: Devon-Elise Johnson as Ann and Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps. (Photo credit: Manuel Harlan).

Wright has taken a theatre space and filled it with something marvellous. A modest revolving set and cleverly utilised projections indicate that this show is not necessarily a flashy one like Aladdin, while nice features like a chandelier, life-sized lampposts and water falling to the stage like rain prove that the production hasn’t been scrimped on.

The Half a Sixpence score is a good one. It’s packed with big show numbers that avid musical-enthusiasts will delight in. The song Look Alive in the first act almost had me on my feet – yet by my watch the show had only been running for nine minutes.

Back to the cast. Leading man Charlie Stemp is undoubtedly the star of the show. His dancing in particular is fantastic, and his whistling skills are amazing; who knew I’d leave the theatre with a burning desire to learn how to whistle like a pro? And the actor really comes into his own in songs like Money to Burn and She’s Too Far Above Me.

Ian Bartholomew as Chitterlow

Pictured: Ian Bartholomew as Chitterlow. (Photo credit: Manuel Harlan).

Other noteworthy performances come from Ian Bartholomew as Chitterlow, and the four drapers’ staff, played by Alex Hope, Callum Train, Sam O’Rourke and Bethany Huckle. As is typical of a musical, there’s a big ole’ injection of humour in Half a Sixpence that keeps the plot from languishing and maintains the audience’s attention.

My only qualm about the production is that the character of Arthur Kipps is often morally confused, which at times for me proved a bit irritating. The fictional character’s decisions are often so far from realistic that the musical has an almost farcical element to it, which I personally could have done without.

Oh, and by the way? If you don’t think there’s a place in the world for a troop of singing, dancing, banjo-playing actors and actresses, think again. Wait until the finale, is all I can say. You might even be tempted to go and buy a banjo (clatter, jang-a, ring-a, jang-a) yourself.

Half a Sixpence is currently booking until September at the Noel Coward Theatre in London. Group rates are available for parties of ten or more, and 25 or more for Monday to Thursday evenings and Wednesday matinee performances.

Lead image: Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps. (Photo credit: Manuel Harlan).