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Review: Half a Sixpence (Noel Coward Theatre)

Julian Fellowes reunites with Stiles and Drew following their hit adaptation of Mary Poppins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

When it first hit the stage in 1963, David Heneker's Half a Sixpence was a star vehicle for legendary entertainer Tommy Steele. Over half a century later, with a new book by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) and new score from songwriting duo Stiles and Drewe, the show has become a star maker for its leading man, Charlie Stemp.

Stemp plays Arthur Kipps, an orphan who inherits a fortune. But as he leaves behind the hoi polloi in favour of the haute monde, he too leaves himself behind. The 22-year old actor, making his West End leading man debut, defines the term triple threat as he leaps and bounds across the Noel Coward boards, his abundant energy and Michael Crawford-esque charm ensuring he'll be remembered for this performance for a long time to come.

There's similarly superlative performances from Emma Williams as Kipps' woodwork teacher turned supposed fiancée, Helen Walsingham, and the effervescent Devon-Elise Johnson as Kipps' true love Ann Pornick.

Rachel Kavanaugh's captivating production reunites the team behind Disney's ever-popular stage adaptation of Mary Poppins. The subject matter seems to sit more comfortably for Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame, than his other West End opening this week, the stage adaptation of School of Rock, while Stiles and Drewe's new music and re-workings of Heneker's original score have put a sparkle into a show that might otherwise have felt dated. "Flash, Bang, Wallop" is still every bit as much of a showstopper.

Complimenting all the above is Paul Brown's stunning design and Andrew Wright's ebullient choreography. All in all this is a charming night out that is certain to warm the chilliest of London evenings this winter. The musical of the year.

Half a Sixpence is booking at the Noel Coward Theatre until 11 February 2017.