“Half a Sixpence,” Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam
--Irene Backalenick
 
Goodspeed Musicals must be admired for handling full-scale musicals on its tiny, bandbox stage. And the theater itself is always a charmer, featuring Victorian décor and a first-class bar, lounge, and terrace with a river view.

But not every Goodspeed show measures up to its surroundings. Such is the case with “Half a Sixpence,” now gracing the company’s main stage. Billed as “a side-splitting musical comedy,” it is far less than that. The production is a disappointing effort, with ho-hum tunes, a lightweight story and featured players of questionable choice.

First, the story: based on an H. G. Wells novel, the show initially sounded promising. But that promise is quickly broken as the story gets under way. The nonsensical, predictable tale concerns a working-class bloke (Arthur Kipps) who suddenly inherits a fortune, abandons his true love, and takes up with the gentry. But soon (after several spirited dance numbers), he realizes the error of his ways and returns to his beloved. No surprises there.

As to the featured players, Jon Peterson as Kipps is a skillful clown who can handle physical comedy, but is hardly appealing as a romantic lead. Since he is called upon to be both at once, he does so awkwardly. His lady love (Ann, played by Sara Gettelfinger) towers over him, and their love scenes (songs and all) prove to be more absurd than poignant. Both are clearly competent, but woefully miscast as the boy and girl in love. Others in the cast carry out their work competently, but have little substance with which to work!

Yet Gordon Greenberg’s direction is sprightly, and dance and design do much to rescue “Half a Sixpence.” Fortunately, it is well-choreographed, with dance routines which feature an ensemble of first-class dancers. When Arthur travels the world on his new-found fortune, the dance incorporates many ethnic influences, adding color and content to the moment. The male dancers, in particular, infuse that and other numbers with considerable skill and zest.

The designers add another saving grace, with charming sets and lavish costumes. Set in Folkestone, England, 1900, “Half a Sixpence” gives set designer Rob Bissinger and costume designer David C. Woolard the chance to work a little magic, all to the good.

All told, “Half a Sixpence” is not Goodspeed’s finest hour. But there’s always that terrace, that cool drink, that river view! With the many assets at their disposal, one would hope that the company makes better choices next season.
 
(This review also appears in the Connecticut Post and nytheaterscene.com)

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