Half A Sixpence is a production with one of the most talented casts I’ve seen to grace the stage, the performance boasts immense heart and phenomenal musical numbers. I spoke to Devon-Elise Johnson who plays Ann Pornick, the gutsy love interest in the charismatic musical.
Devon-Elise gives such a strong performance of Ann because of her connection to the character. When she found out she was up for the role, she downloaded the film straight away, “I watched Julia Foster do it and I just sort of knew it and thought – that’s me,” she said. “It sounds weird, because she isn’t like your normal romantic lead, she is feisty and has a bit of ball behind her, and I think that is what I like about her, I really connected with that.”
Whilst everybody else in the cast had about eleven auditions, it all happened incredibly quickly for Devon-Elise. After her agent called her up on a Saturday night, telling her she was sending her nine pieces of material to prep over the weekend, she confessed it was a musical she hadn’t heard of. “So I locked myself in my bedroom for the entire weekend, learnt 5 songs and 4 pieces of script, went in on Tuesday morning and had a preliminary audition,” she told me. “Then I saw Cameron on the Wednesday and on Thursday I got invited to Cameron’s office to sing in front of Stiles and Drewe, Andrew Wright and the other creatives – honestly it was incredible.”
She was then shocked to find Charlie Stemp who plays Arthur Kipps walk in, as they worked together on Mamma Mia and were such genuine friends. “So it was absolutely mental. The audition finished and I took myself off for a little treat, went to starbucks and had a Nutella cookie, as you do. Ten minutes later I got a phone call from my agent who was sobbing, telling me I had the part.
So honestly, within three days of auditions I got told that I was going to play Ann. It was just the most insane feeling, I just remember walking around in circles, I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was probably the shortest audition period I’ve ever had in my life,” she said.
The character of Ann has some big numbers in the show, really heartfelt and vocally demanding roles. I asked Devon-Elise her favourite number to perform: “A Touch of Happiness, I love that number. It is my favourite number to do, especially with Beth on stage because we get on so well.” It’s a highly animated production and Devon-Elise explained how she sustains the vocal energy: “During rehearsals I built up my stamina, it has all become muscle memory now. I just make sure I get loads of sleep and I drink heaps of water, I think that is the main thing.”
It’s an old fashioned, classic musical that has been enhanced by the highly talented composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. “Ant and George’s music is just seamless,” Devon-Elise told me. They have adapted the iconic numbers in the show, and added some powerful numbers, such as the epic ensemble number Pick Out A Simple Tune. “I had no idea when I came into this what was original and what wasn’t. I don’t think you can really tell, I think they’ve done it so incredibly and they are such lovely guys as well. Sometimes they write a song within a day.”
“I’ve had people at stage door say, ‘god I didn’t expect that, I’m coming back again’ and that is all we keep hearing. We must be doing something right!”
The power of the music is reflected in the slick choreography by Andrew Wright. “I’ve never worked with him before but I’ve always wanted to,” said Devon-Elise. “But when I’ve seen his stuff before like Singin’ In The Rain, it is so incredible. What Andrew does beautifully is this style of dance, the quirky old fashioned musical theatre.”
Each musical number in the show is so dynamic, the production as a whole are bursting with passion and character. I questioned Devon-Elise on how she finds that energy every night, and she quickly responded: “Charlie.” She explained: “Charlie has such a high energy level that it is really hard to not match it. When you’ve got your leading man giving you life and soul, it would be pretty difficult to not be exactly the same.”
The final number that everyone is waiting for is the utterly recognisable Flash, Bang Wallop. “As soon as the curtains open and you hear the first note, you get this weird sort of adrenaline rush and it is like seven minutes of pure energy and adrenaline that just does not stop,” she said. “I love it, it is the one number that I get to dance in as well.”
“This is hands down the nicest cast I’ve ever worked with in my life, absolutely hand on heart they are incredible.”
The chemistry within the cast is completely translated on stage, “everyone brings something different, you look around and the diversity of the cast is just insane. Everybody is so talented, everybody is so grounded , so nice and helpful,” Devon-Elise told me. ” Everyone says to us ‘you look like you’re having so much fun‘ and we are, we don’t even have to pretend. Whenever something doesn’t quite go right, we know that everyone on stage has your back which is really lovely. Honestly, I just absolutely adore this cast I really do.”
The 1963 musical has been revived masterfully and it is a fresh take on what we love about old-school musical theatre. “The show isn’t really what you expect,” Devon-Elise said. “It is fun, energetic, has a beautiful storyline and gorgeous songs. It is a feel-good musical – I challenge anyone to come out of the theatre not smiling. It will lift your spirits.”