Heading back to that original video of Judi Dench rehearsing in Cabaret a few days ago, you might recall I'd made a slight tangent diverting from that, mentioning how the main "talking head" in the piece was an actress named Marti Webb, who had starred back in 1963 opposite Tommy Steele in the musical, Half a Sixpence.
Which brings us to Digression Land, a place I find myself visiting so often that I no longer need a passport. The comment got me thinking about Half Sixpence, a charming show based on a novel, Kipps, by, of all people, H.G. Wells, which my folks saw on a trip to London. They enjoyed it a lot, though not as much as the beloved Pickwick on that same trip. (Quite a trip, eh?)
I found an excerpt from a much longer piece about the history of British musicals that deals with Half a Sixpence as a representative of the advance of British shows at that time -- which included Pickwick (which you'll see referenced briefly in the video, and if you listen in the background at the start, you'll hear my fave Harry Secombe singing that show's hit, "If I Ruled the World.") I recall them thinking that as good as Half a Sixpence was, they though Pickwick would be the big hit on Broadway. (Though little known in the U.S., Pickwick actually was a hit, making all its money back on a rare, hugely-successful pre-Broadway tour of the country. But it only got passable reviews when it hit New York, and so when its star, Harry Secombe -- who did get raves -- bizarrely got mumps and needed time off, producer David Merrick decided to stick with the profit, and closed the show.) Half a Sixpence rode on the fame its matinee-idol fame its star Tommy Steele received, and the show not only had a long run of 511 performances in New York, but eventually had a feature film made of it.
And there's a bit of a bonus here.
In the video, they talk at length about needing a big "11 o'clock" number and coming up with the song, "Flash Bang Wallop." I'll take their word that it took London by storm, but it's hardly the best number in the show, or close. It's a fun piece, but there are some other really terrific songs n the show. But -- it fit the moment, and is lively, so all's well.
And here is that very number, "Flash Bang Wallp" with the original cast singing it at the Royal Variety Performance in 1963. (Marti Webb doesn't have much to do in the number, but she's the bride there.) But this is a showpiece for Tommy Steele.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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