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Half a Sixpence

Jon Peterson and Sara Gettelfinger star in Goodspeed's amusing revival of the 1965 Broadway hit.

By Connecticut
Jon Peterson and Sara Gettelfinger in Half a Sixpence
(© Diane Sobolewski)
Jon Peterson and Sara Gettelfinger in Half a Sixpence
(© Diane Sobolewski)
With its broad music-hall humor and sentimental trappings, Half a Sixpence might not suit today's Broadway audiences as well as it did back in 1965. It is, however, a perfect fit for the charming old Goodspeed Opera House, which was built by a shipping tycoon in 1876 for the amusement of his cronies. You can practically hear their ghosts giggling in the rafters.

Very loosely adapted by Beverley Cross (Boeing-Boeing) from a semi-autobiographical 1905 novel by H. G. Wells, and featuring a none-too-memorable score by David Heneker, the show tells the rags-to-riches (and back again) tale of a plucky clerk at a ladies' dressmaking shop in a fashionable seaside resort town. The opening number, "All in the Economy," sets the Dickensian scene as a quartet of shopboys, egged on by peppy, pint-sized ringleader Arthur Kipps (Jon Peterson), complain of shabby treatment at the hands of their penny-pinching boss, Mr. Shalford (James Judy, his scowling countenance all but obscured in a visor of muttonchop whiskers).

Should you hear a rustling in the dark during the number, it's probably theatergoers checking the credits for the snappy choreography. It's by Patti Colombo, who's quickly garnering a whirlwind of awards for her work. She deserves another one, since the dancing is by far the strongest element in the show, and the 27-member company nimbly fulfills her demands.

Rob Bissinger's fast-morphing scenery is suitably atmospheric, and David C. Woolard's turn-of-the-century costumes are luscious -- although I do wish he and wig designer Mark Adam Rampmery had given Sara Gettelfinger (who plays Ann, Kipps' down-to-earth, below-stairs love interest) a more Victorian look. Decent adult women of the era, even those of the lower classes, would never have worn their hair down, except perhaps in the boudoir, and the short pinafore that Ann sports shows a shocking degree of ankle.

Still, Gettelfinger gives her part a warm, dry delivery that skims some of the syrup off the surface. Other standouts in the cast are Donna English as the alternately snobby and predatory Mrs. Walsingham, who doesn't mind a little slumming if it'll keep her out of hock, and her condescending twit of a son, whom Carrington Vilman gets absolutely perfectly.

If you're thinking of taking the family, be forewarned that some of the numbers end in frankly compromising positions. A barmaid's leglock, for instance, puts a temporary kink in Arthur and Ann's nascent romance. In any event, the sight of snobby Mrs. Bottin (Cheryl McMahon) abruptly stripped to her knickers mid-waltz -- "I am quite certain no one noticed," she politely reassures her dancing partner, the clumsy Kipp -- guarantees an all-ages laugh.


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