Sunday, August 17, 2008

Review of "Half a Sixpence'

Take the age old story of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back; add a touch of Pygmalion; crowd pleasing choreography; and an endearing and beguiling lead character; and you have the key ingredients to The Goodspeed Opera House’s winning production of the infrequently revived, Half a Sixpence. Based on the H.G. Wells novel, “Kipps,” the musical follows shop clerk Arthur Kipps, an everyman’s bloke in the seaside town of Folkstone, as he woos his childhood sweetheart, Ann. Along the way Kipp’s financial fortunes take a huge leap forward and his romantic courtship becomes temporarily sidetracked. Social class and standing are also an underlying theme throughout the show.

Steeped in the British music hall tradition, Half a Sixpence boasts numerous large-scale production numbers that are as delectable and frothy as any of the confections sold along the seaside’s boardwalks. Choreographer Patti Colombo pulls out all the stops in her inventive and rousing dance routines, most of the time employing all of the large cast on the diminutive Goodspeed stage.

Central to the show’s sustainability and enjoyment is the lead actor portraying Arthur Kipps. The person needs to be a sure-fire triple threat—singing, dancing, and acting up a storm. Without the proper fit, the musical would languish under Beverley Cross’ rather pedestrian book. Fortunately, Goodspeed landed Jon Peterson for the role of Kipps. He is an engaging and affable performer that immediately connects with the audience. Peterson is the type of mate you’d go out to have a beer with or just shoot the breeze. He brings a satisfying singing voice and dazzling, athletic dance moves to the role.

The rest of the sizeable cast is professional and spirited, most notably Jeff Skowron as the bon vivant playwright, Chitterlow. The one shortcoming was the rather lackluster chemistry between Peterson and Sara Gettelfinger, who portrays the love of his life, Ann. For a couple supposedly smitten with each other, their scenes together produced far too few sparks.

The lean score by David Heneker provides a number of gems including the rousing “Money to Burn,” “If the Rain’s Got to Fall,” and “Flash, Bang, Wallop;” and the lovely ballads, “Long Ago’” and “I Know What I Am.” Selections from Half a Sixpence can be heard on the August 10, 2008 edition of my radio program, "On Broadway." The production numbers accompanying “If the Rain’s Got to Fall,” and “Flash, Bang, Wallop” alone are worth the price of admission.

The creative team of Rob Bissinger, scenic design; David Woolard, costumes; and Jeff Croiter, lighting design; provide the musical with an authentic feel for a turn-of-the-century English coastal town where the working class and the upper stratum of society exist side by side.

Director Gordon Greenberg deftly guides the action through the multiple set changes, keeping the buoyancy of the production gliding along smoothly throughout.

“Half a Sixpence,” a flash, bang, wallop of a show, now at The Goodspeed Opera House through September 19, 2008.