BWW Reviews: A SPOONFUL OF SHERMAN, St James Theatre Studio, April 17 2014
A Spoonful? It's rather more than that - 90 years more! But if you're feeling exhausted by the long haul from January 1 to April 18 for a day off work, A Spoonful of Sherman (back at St James Theatre Studio until 22 April) will certainly help the medicine to go down.
Robert J Sherman is our guide as we travel from Tip Pan Alley to the London Palladium, from 1909 to 2014, from Dachau to Disney - the hits, the award winners and the love just keeps coming.
Grandad Al Sherman followed the trail blazed by the likes of Irving Berlin, swapping European persecution for Broadway success, no less extraordinary for its familiarity. Despite having little English, talent will out and soon after pitching up in The Big Apple, he was writing hit after hit - joyful songs that were the equivalent of Pharrell Williams' "Happy" of today. They're represented in the show by the utterly charming Depression-era number, "Potatoes are cheaper, Tomatoes are cheaper - Now's the time to fall in love!"
Al's sons, Robert and Richard, inherited the gift and were soon knocking out their own tunes. "Bob" was one of those ridiculously gifted men who excelled across any number of pursuits - but he was principled and brave too. While still a teenager (having joined the US Army at 17) he led a handful of men into Dachau's concentration camp, the first Allied troops to witness its horrors. Bob Sherman was not just a musical hero, he was a war hero who knew the difference between right and wrong and what to do about it. A rare plaintive song, "There's a Harbour of Dreamboats" was his tribute to those who didn't come back.
The Sherman Brothers fell in with Walt Disney providing the much under-rated songs that underpinned both his live action and animated classics. The show's first half closes with a medley from Mary Poppins: "Feed The Birds"; "Chim-Chim-Cher-ee"; "Step in Time" and plenty more, performed by our four excellent singers. Greg Castiglione played up the humour throughout, "The Ugly Bug Ball" his highlight; Stuart Matthew Price, perhaps slightly ill at ease with the Ringo Starr hit, "You're Sixteen", fluffed a line and rescued it with the most perfectly charming blush and ad lib; Charlotte Wakefield balanced power and poignancy, with "Tell Him Anything" her standout; while few could resist Emma Williams' return to favourites from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, in which she was the original Truly Scumptious on its London debut.
The second half zooms by as fast as Caractacus Potts' famous flying car, with a nod towards The Jungle Book and The Slipper and The Rose and a few (very pleasing) songs written by our host, Bob's son Robert J Sherman, before the big singalong finish and out blinking into the adult world. The show is subtitled The Songbook of Your Childhood - that's true of me and, perhaps illustrating the deceptive power of these catchy songs better than any description, it made me think about my dead parents and offer a few silent words of gratitude that such was so.