The tuneful 1963 musical comedy Half a Sixpence was an instant sensation in London's West End, inspiring a subsequent Broadway production and big-screen adaptation. A musical version of H.G. Wells' novel Kipps, Half a Sixpence featured music and lyrics by David Heneker and book by Beverley Cross. It opened with Tommy Steele as Arthur Kipps, successfully transforming the pop idol into a theatrical star. In recent years, the show enjoyed a hit revival in London starring Charlie Stemp (Mary Poppins, Hello, Dolly!). Back in 2017, Stage Door Records issued Heneker's original demos for the musical on CD; now, Stage Door is continuing its trawl through the Saga Records library to premiere on CD Saga's 1967 London Studio Cast Recording. It's due out this Friday, October 29, though copies are already shipping directly from Stage Door.
Studio cast recordings of major musicals were common occurrences throughout the 1960s, but the trend largely eluded Half a Sixpence after its original West End run. One EP starring Paul Rich as Kipps was issued on the Embassy label in 1963 but the floodgates didn't open until the Paramount Pictures film hit screens in 1967 with Tommy Steele repeating his West End and Broadway triumph. Pye imprint Marble Arch's recording starred Steele's London understudy Roy Sone and original London leading lady Marti Webb as Ann. (Marti also dubbed Julia Foster as Ann in the movie.) EMI's Music for Pleasure version was headlined by Des O'Connor and Julia Sutton (who had also played a small role in the movie). World Record Club's LP featured singer Marty Wilde in the lead. While all of these have something to recommend, Saga's recording might be the most interesting of them all - and it's also the first to receive a CD appearance.
Saga's London Studio Cast Recording starred Colin Farrell - now known as Col, to avoid confusion with the Irish movie star - as Kipps; he had "graduated" from the role of Buggins in the 1963 West End production. Farrell has continued to act over the years, including a Doctor Who appearance as Benni in 2020. Oddly, Farrell wasn't pictured on the album cover, with Kipps portrayed there by an unknown model.
Opposite Farrell was Angela Richards, another veteran West End performer with credits including Robert and Elizabeth and On the Level. Michael Wisher - best-known for his numerous Doctor Who roles including that of the Daleks' creator, Davros - rounded out the main cast as Harry Chitterlow. Musical accompaniment was by Ray Cook conducting the Westminster Sinfonia and Theatre Chorus.
While the other Half a Sixpence studio cast albums were based upon the film and its expert arrangements by Irwin Kostal (Mary Poppins, West Side Story), Saga created a hybrid of both the film and the stage original. As a result, both "The Party's on the House" and the song which replaced it in the movie, "This Is My World," are present. The movie's other new song, "Mrs. Botting's Boating Regatta Cup Racing Song (The Race Is On)," is also included. So is "The One That Ran Away," heard in London but not in the movie or the Broadway staging. This blended score makes for an engaging listen, especially as resequenced by Stage Door to better reflect the correct sequence of the musical.
Though the original stage or film orchestrations weren't available for the recording, the brassy arrangements heard are in the spirit of Heneker's score. Thanks to both the cast members and the orchestra, the album is highly theatrical and captures the jolly brio of such showstoppers as "If the Rain's Got to Fall," "Flash, Bang, Wallop!," and the delightful title song in addition to the heartfelt ballads "Long Ago" and "She's Too Far Above Me."
Stage Door's reissue has been splendidly remastered from the original Saga tapes as vaulted in the British Library, and the eight-page booklet features informative liner notes by David Heneker estate archivist Stewart Nicholls as well as photos and memorabilia images. Perhaps no show epitomizes the sound of mid-'60s British musical comedy more than Half a Sixpence; Stage Door's reissue is a fine testament to its bright, brash, and beautiful melodies. You'll find the track listing and order links below!
Original London Studio Cast Recording, Half a Sixpence (Saga EROS-8108, 1967 - reissued Stage Door Records STAGE 9088, 2021) (Amazon U.S. Link TBD / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada Link TBD / Stage Door)
- All in the Cause of Economy - Colin Farrell and Chorus
- Half a Sixpence - Colin Farrell and Angela Richards
- I Don't Believe a Word of It - Angela Richards and Chorus
- She's Too Far Above Me - Colin Farrell
- If the Rain's Got to Fall - Colin Farrell and Chorus
- Botting's Boating Regatta Cup Racing Song (The Race Is On) - Colin Farrell and Chorus
- The One That Ran Away - Colin Farrell and Michael Wisher
- Long Ago - Angela Richards and Colin Farrell
- Flash, Bang, Wallop! - Colin Farrell and Chorus
- I Know What I Am - Angela Richards
- The Party's on the House - Colin Farrell and Chorus
- This Is My World - Colin Farrell
- Half a Sixpence (Reprise) - Colin Farrell and Angela Richards
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