What A Triumph, What A Triumph! HALF A SIXPENCE at the Noël Coward Theatre

Half a Sixpence was the first show I ever performed in with an amateur theatre company so the show holds a near and dear place in my heart. As a result, the news of this revisal - with a new book by Julian Fellowes and new music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe - made me nervous but if anything, the new material this show has been given has taken it from good to outstanding.

For those who don't know it already, the story of Half a Sixpence follows a young boy named Arthur Kipps who moves to Folkestone in Kent to pursue his career in a fabric shop doing an apprenticeship. Upon arrival, he makes close friends with the other members of staff but can't help but wish for more; meanwhile, his childhood sweetheart Ann is waiting for his return. One day in the shop, Kipps meets the aristocratic Mrs Wallsingham and her beautiful daughter Helen and Kipps instantly falls in love, but it isn't until he finds out that he has a rich benefactor who has left him a fortune that he decides to pursue his love for Helen. A love triangle ensues between Kipps, Ann and Helen and Kipps is forced to discover how to handle his new-found fortune and who his heart leads him to. The story is a fun one and is now much more complex and enjoyable than it was before. It's the kind of story that Julian Fellowes writes rather frequently and his talents are at play in abundance here.

Charlie Stemp shines like the star he was born to be in Half a Sixpence

The new music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe is also a perfect addition to this new production. If I hadn't known the piece before this, I wouldn't have even questioned that any songs were additional whatsoever. Perhaps it's because the duo also re-arranged and adapted the older songs by David Heneker to fit their new additions, but it all still sounded fantastic. In fact, some of the best songs from the show are additional ones by Stiles and Drewe like Believe In Yourself - sang by Charlie Stemp as Kipps and Emma Williams as Helen - and A Little Touch of Happiness, hilariously sung by Bethany Huckle as Flo and Devon-Elise Johnson as Ann. And it has to be said that the show's big additional showstopper Pick Out A Simple Tune is absolutely fantastic. I thought the show had its only big showstopper with Flash, Bang, Wallop but evidently not; I haven't been able to get that song out of my head all evening!

This cast are sublime as well and all of them are such high calibre and enriched with such talent and passion for the show that it really is hard to say any of them are better than the others. Emma Williams is always fantastic but in this, she shines like the star that she is. This kind of role suits her perfectly and her natural poise and grace serves her well. It's also delightful to hear her sing so much in this show in a style that's slightly different to when we last sat her in Mrs Henderson Presents and I loved it. The same praise has to go to Devon-Elise Johnson who I've never seen before but blew me away in this, as well as the rest of the cast's ability to blend together so well and really work well together as a team effort. You know a cast is a strong one when you leave the theatre thinking about the big full-cast dance moments and how slick and together they are. The beauty about this being a transfer from Chichester is that the cast have had such a long time to work together and understand each other that they now come across as such a wonderful tight-knit family and it's great to see.

Devon-Elise Johnson and Charlie Stemp as Ann and Kipps respectively in Half a Sixpence

The star of the show though has to be relatively newcomer Charlie Stemp. I don't know how on Earth they managed to find him as he only has two professional theatre credits before this one, but by God am I glad that they did. Charlie Stemp shines like the star he was born to be as Arthur Kipps and not a single step is out of time. His natural boyish charm serves him well for the role and made me love him and root for him throughout; his entire performance was faultless and the fact that he managed to keep up such a strong appearance for a character that is actually pretty complex is commendable. He dances with perfection as well and leaps with such ease and beauty that at one point, I actually wondered if he flew. Trevor Jackson and Paul Wooller have cast the West End's next big star in Half a Sixpence and I can't wait to see his inevitable Olivier nomination next year.

Paul Brown helps the vision of Folkestone come to life as well with his genius set design. His use of the five-piece turntable that they've installed makes the piece feel so free and vast in a space that is relatively small and in a small space like the Noël Coward, it's very easy to make the piece feel static but Brown has managed to defeat that. His minimal set design - which is highlighted by the use of the turntables - is beautiful to look at and the automation makes for some wonderful moments of dance as well. None of that would be possible though without the great work of Rachel Kavanaugh and Andrew Wright, the show's director and choreographer respectively. Their work on this piece is sublime and they've managed to bring the most out of these actors, Wright especially with a lot of ensemble dance moments giving me goosebumps; it is truly perfect.

What A Picture! This cast for Half a Sixpence - led by Charlie Stemp - are sublime

Half a Sixpence is one of those rare shows that is well and truly flawless. From the stunning and talented cast to the beautiful design, every inch of this show is exactly what a musical should be. Half a Sixpence has found it's home in the West End and it's a show that we won't forget for a long time to come.

Half a Sixpence runs at the Noël Coward Theatre thru February 11th. Get tickets here. You can also read more reviews for Half a Sixpence over at TheatreBloggers.co.uk.

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