By Geary Danihy
Arthur Kipps, one of the clerks at Shalford’s Emporium, may not be the finest example of British manhood, but darn it all, he’s extremely likable. The same can be said of the musical that tells young Mr. Kipps’ story. Half a Sixpence may not be the finest example of musical comedy, but darn it all, it’s extremely likable.
Kipps, played by Jon Peterson in an “Aw, shucks” manner that has him ruffling his hair whenever he’s perturbed, confused or beset by problems (think Andy Hardy with an accent), is a young man of low expectations who has managed to capture the heart of Ann (Sara Gettelfinger), a parlor maid who has recently gained employment in Folkestone, England, where Kipps works. They seem made for each other until a rich (and apparently heretofore unknown) uncle dies leaving Kipps a fortune. The money turns the young man’s head, as does the attention of the Walsingham’s, an upper-class family fallen on hard times that sees young Kipps as a somewhat unpolished answer to their prayers. Engaged to the Walsingham daughter, Helen (Julia Osborne), Kipps seems poised to make the wrong decision for the wrong reason until several turns of events set him back in Ann’s loving arms.
Based on a novel by H. G. Wells, Half a Sixpence is pure British cotton candy – sweet while it’s being consumed but with little substance to stay with you much past the curtain calls. In other words, it’s perfect summer fare.
As is so often the case with musicals produced by Goodspeed, the cast’s energy and eagerness to please make what might otherwise be a mediocre evening one that puts a smile on your face from the opening number, “All in the Cause of Economy,” broadens it with such ensemble numbers as “Money to Burn” and the truly engaging “Flash Bang Wallop,” and turns it into a full-fledged if somewhat goofy grin with the final “The Party’s on the House.”
Much of the credit here must go to choreographer Patti Colombo, whose appealing work has the cast leaping, spinning and tapping out numbers that seem, at times, to burst out at the audience. Credit must also go to director Gordon Greenberg for keeping the pace up and the energy high, and scenic designer Rob Bissinger, who shows how much can be done with the limited space the Goodspeed stage has to offer.
The leads all do credible jobs, especially Peterson, who manages to be both awkward and graceful at the same time in a performance that has him in almost constant motion throughout the entire evening. Gettlefinger, extremely graceful herself, seems to be a bit miscast as Kipps’ love interest only in that she doesn’t seem to be able to shed her inherent elegance sufficiently to sell the idea that she is but a mere parlor maid. Playing the Walsinghams, Donna English, Osborne and Carrington Vilmont put on enough airs to chill anyone within a radius of ten feet.
It is, however, the fifteen or so young actors and actresses who play the secondary roles and make up the ensemble that truly sell the show. Enthusiastic and blessed with a surfeit of vitality, these dancers and singers work hard to sell every number they are in, and they succeed. You probably won’t remember any of the tunes you’ll hear, but that really doesn’t matter. You’ll enjoy the cotton candy, stickiness and all, while you’re downing it and as a reward have a brief but enjoyable sugar high.
Half a Sixpence runs through Friday, Sept. 19. For tickets or more information call 860-873-8668 or go to www.goodspeed.org.
This review originally appeared in the Norwalk Citizen-News.