I think I might have a new musical obsession, and it’s come from a more unlikely source. I saw Half a Sixpence at the Noel Coward theatre for the second time on Saturday and I am now officially hooked. The soundtrack has been brightening up my commute ever since. I’m not the only person to fall for this show – it just won two big ‘What’s On Stage’ awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Both are very well deserved!
Read on to find out what I thought of this musical and why I think you should book your tickets soon.
You may find that your parents or grandparents are more familiar with the story of Half a Sixpence, one of the newest musicals to come to the West End stage in London. Even though this show is considered new, it was originally performed in 1963 and was written as a vehicle for popstar at the time, Tommy Steele. It showed off all his talents; singing, dancing, acting, and even banjo playing. It proved to be so popular that it even transferred to Broadway. Now, over fifty years later, the musical has been given a new lease of life. Rather than simply reviving the popular show, the creatives have written new songs, overhauled the script, and developed captivating choreography to turn this into a modern hit.
I love this show for so many reasons.
I first saw it back in previews in November 2016. A spot of insider information meant that I could get a prime view for a bargain price. Our seats in the Grand Circle were perfect and I enjoyed the show so much. The dancing and energy caught my attention in particular. You could feel that the whole cast was so eager to get everything perfect ahead of their official opening night. Back then, the cast album hadn’t been released so I had to keep the songs in my head until it finally came out.
Now that the show has officially opened, they offer front row seats for £20 at every performance, which can be bought in-person from the Box Office. Naturally, they’re incredibly popular so I found myself huddling up on the pavement outside the theatre on a damp Saturday morning at 8.20am to make sure I could get one. It’s a far cry from glamorous, but waiting for over an hour and a half was more than worth it.
When the evening came around, we arrived at the theatre early to enjoy our front row seats. Unlike most theatres, the orchestra is conducted from the back of the stage on a raised platform so there is no orchestra pit between the audience at the stage. That means that front row is less than a metre from the action – and there is a lot of action in this show.
From huge jumps, a revolving stage, and brilliant dancing, a lot of this show happens right at the front of the stage. This was both incredible and a little scary; one wrong foot and we could have ended up with an actor hurtling down onto us. Thankfully this cast are far too professional for that. As far as I could tell, no-one put a foot out of place, even during complex routines that include the full company. All the choreography is high energy so it’s exhilarating to watch. From our seats that were practically on the stage, we couldn’t even see the floor because we were so close, so the moves can often look even better from the higher tiers.
The best part about sitting on the front row is that so much of the action happened within a few metres of us. Some of my favourite parts were when the whole company got together to belt out harmonies in some of the showstoppers, like ‘If the Rain’s Got to Fall’, ‘Pick Out a Simple Tune’ and the classic ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop’, which is the most well-known song from the original musical.
Some of my favourite scenes were those with all the shop assistants. Their personalities are so distinct, particularly in ‘Money to Burn’, where they all lay out their dreams. Flo, the only female shop assistant, definitely stood out and she was so fun to watch.
The real star is undoubtedly Charlie Stemp, who plays the title role of Arthur Kipps. In the first act, he is only off stage for around ten minutes in total, seamlessly going from scene to scene without even entering the wings. Most of the time he is on stage involves singing, dancing, or other complicated choreography. Even more, he is probably the most talented dancer in the whole cast. Add that to his great singing an acting, and it’s an incredibly impressive performance.
If you haven’t considered going to see this show, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s light-hearted fun that will leave you grinning, singing and dancing throughout and long after you leave the theatre. It’s a rare musical that the entire family will enjoy, so take the kids and the grandparents and have a great night out. I plan on going to see this show quite a few more times, so let’s hope it has a very long run. It definitely deserves it!
Have you been to see Half a Sixpence? What is your favourite show in the West End at the moment?