Tuesday, 8 March 2016

"Half A Sixpence" by LAOS
Loughborough Town Hall

This, sadly, little performed musical from the sixties is my first experience of Loughborough Amateur operatic Society, as I missed out on seeing "Sweet Charity" last year, and what an introduction to this very talented bunch of thespians. You'd have to be a penny short of a farthing not to enjoy this energetic show. My money's on it being a total success by the end of its' run, this coming Saturday.

"Sixpence" is all about Arthur Kipps,  an orphan who is a shop boy and lives below the shop, owned by Mr Shalford. Kipps unexpectedly inherits a fortune, and climbs the social ladder before losing everything and realizing that you just can't buy happiness until he goes back to what he had before and marries his original sweetheart, Ann,

The musical was originally used as a vehicle for Tommy Steele back in 1967 and features eleven of the fourteen songs sung by Kipps, so there's a lot of pressure on James Highton who plays Kipps in this musical. James rises to the occasion with a strong and distinctive voice. Vocally he blends well with the ensemble numbers as well as the songs with the shop boys, Chitterlow and Ann. He has a clear tone which is also powerful, making sure that you hear every word of the songs. A confident and instantly likeable leading man who creates a realistic chemistry with Ann. You can see the enthusiasm in numbers like "Flash, Bang, Wallop", "Money To Burn" and "The Party's On The House" as well as a lovely air of melancholy in "She's Too Far Above Me", To me James was like a cross between Melvyn Hayes and Anthony Newley, fun with a great singing voice.

Ably supported by his fellow shop boys Liam Patrick (Sid), Ian Dean (Buggins), who also did a brilliant job as choreographer, especially as this was his debut for LAOS in this field. Josh Hill as Pearce completes the trio of co-workers with Hipps. There are some lovely, almost barbershop harmonies when the four sing together. Again some very energetic dance routines for the quartet.

The shop girls, Flo (Rose Morris), Kate (Nicole Ray), Victoria (Gemma Hopwood) and Emma (Gemma Baxter) were a lovely compliment to the male contingent of the shop, both looks wise and vocally.

Mark Chinnery (Mr Shalford) put the boss into bossy, or should that be the other way round, as was Sue Reynolds as Mrs Walsingham, one of the upper class ladies of the family that Kipps very nearly married into. Along with Mrs Botting (Kate King), they would have made Arthur's life a living hell. Helen Walsingham completed the female Walsinghams and was played by Nikita Collington.

Ann was played by the lovely Becky Bakewell. To quote another musical, lovely to look at and lovely to listen to. her solo song, "I Know What I Am" was quite splendid and sent a shiver up the spine to make the hair on my neck rise. Some lovely light and shade in Becky's performances, from the angry "I Don't Believe A Word Of It" to the slightly sentimental "Long Ago" duet.

Chitterlow, the actor and playwright in the play, delivers the news of the inheritance to Arthur, was played by Richard York. A lovely over the top ham performance by Chitterlow ,not by Richard. It looked like Richard mastered the drunken stagger and slur part, and I imagine hours of research may have gone into mastering the character.

Young Walsingham, the abtholute cad of the pieth, wath camped up with an added lithp, which made the role even funnier and played for maximum laughs and comedic affect by Andy Marmoy.

It's a large cast with a combined ensemble of fourteen others aside from the main roles. All slotting in nicely and making the full ensemble choreographed scenes feel like a fun day on the set of "Eastenders" (if you can remember "fun" and "Eastenders" being used in the same sentence).

A wonderful orchestra created a lovely clear sound and was under the musical direction of Hazel Needham. Directed by Nicola Dexter,l who was in the last production of "Sixpence" by LAOS in 2004. she brought out the fun and the energy in the actors. There's only one thing I would have changed if I was director and that was at the close of Act One. The act ended on the brilliant "If The Rains Got To Fall" with the cast, part kneeling, to the lights being dimmed to close. they then made their way off of the stage after the applause. I would have had the curtain come down so the last we saw of the cast would be in the final positions, not getting to their feet and making their way into the wings. i suppose that's why I'm reviewing though and not directing the show!

Some simple but very effective and colourful scenes, which were changed with the absolute minimum of fuss, and some wonderful costumes made this an aural and visual delight.

A thoroughly enjoyable show which is great fun to watch. The story is not over complicated so is easy to follow, The songs are recognisable and had the practically full Town Hall audience clapping their hands, stamping their feet and if they had big bass drums, they would be banging them as well. A talented bunch of people who obviously love doing this show because it shows in their enthusiasm.

"Half A Sixpence" is being performed by Loughborough Amateur operatic Society at Loughborough Town Hall until Saturday 12 March 2016.

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