Stick it in your fam’ly album”
With Half A Sixpence due to close in the West End in exactly one month, I thought now was as good a time as any to give the Original Cast Recording a listen. The show has built up quite the devoted following in its lifespan but for me, in both its original Chichester production and the subsequent transfer to the Noël Coward, it was a musical that I liked rather than loved, the balance not quite right with all the magic in the second half.
And listening to the show simply reminded me of how I felt. Stripped of its extraordinary physicality, Charlie Stemp’s chirpy chappy routine is surprisingly quite wearisome to listen to from the outset. The sentiment of the opening title track proving cloying and the lack of any killer new tunes from Stiles and Drewe before the interval leave the score sounding solid rather than spectacular, I still can’t hum you a single track save ‘Half A Sixpence’ itself.
What saves the show, and thus this cast recording, is the exuberance that comes in the second half, with its two ginormous production numbers – one classic and one brand-new. ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune’ has that earworm quality which means it sounds instantly familiar and its full-company energy is as irresistible on record as it is onstage. And ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop’ (a number I’d never heard until this show…) has a similar jauntiness which is good fun.
But over the course of an album, such a low strike rate doesn’t bode well (for me at least) and possibly goes to show how the revising of the show didn’t go far enough to revitalise it sufficiently for a contemporary audience. It’s no secret that Stiles and Drewe plus book-writer Julian Fellowes have nostalgia running through their bloodstream but as with The Wind in the Willows, the cut-throat realities of the West End demands more.