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1040 Abroad

A Spoonful of Sherman
St James' Theatre Studio, 12 Palace St, London SW1E 5JA
January 13, 2014

Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell

A Spoonful of Sherman
The cast of A Spoonful of Sherman: left to right: Emma Williams, Charlotte Wakefield, Stuart Matthew Price, Greg Castiglioni. Photo: Ben Davies
A little bit of schmaltz goes a long way with your curmudgeonly reviewer so a celebration of the life, times and songs of Robert B Sherman was going to be a tall order. I happily survived.

The Shermans have been writing tunes for three generations now. The grandfather Al Sherman was a gifted Tin Pan Alley tunesmith and his sons Robert and Richard were responsible for the songs which made Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the international smash hits they became. They're in the news recently being featured in the Emma Thompson movie Savings Mr Banks, suffering the viperish barbs of PL Travers. The brothers also greatly enhanced such animated Disney classics as The Jungle Book and The Aristocrats and wrote the score for the greatly underrated '70s take on Cinderella, The Slipper and the Rose.

Robert Snr spent his final years in London overseeing the smash hit theater reincarnations of Chitty and Mary Poppins which brought these beloved stories to a whole new generation and his son Robert Jnr still resides here. He himself has taken up the family trade, so far without particular success, but the passion is there as is the same devotion to "avoid ugliness".

Robbie Sherman
Robbie Sherman
Robert Jnr is MC for this compilation show but is a faltering performer himself. Rather touchingly, he missed cues and fluffed lines, having got lost in the joy of watching his fellow performers.

The talented bunch he brought together for this evening included Emma Williams (the West End's most scrumptious Truly Scrumptious), Charlotte Wakefield (a recent Maria in The Sound of Music in Regents Park), Stuart Matthew Price (possessor of an exquisite tenor voice) and Greg Castiglioni, who is more animated than anything Disney could conjure up and who pulls off the comedy numbers with and an effortless panache.

Al Sherman, the grandfather, made his bread and butter on pop and novelty songs, of which he was a master. One forgets that he composed such '50s hits as 'Comes Along a Love' and 'You're Sixteen' (...you're beautiful and you're mine, yes you do know it), famously covered by Ringo Starr.

Wakefield gave us a finger snappin' take on Annette Funicello's hymn to her beach–bum beau 'Tall Paul' and its lyric about his "his king size charms" is about as racy as the Sherman's ever got.

The quartet of trained theater voices struggled a little with the '50s teeny bopper stuff (Price admitted he'd never heard of 'You're Sixteen') but they made up for it in the extended excepts from Mary Poppins and Chitty as well as numbers from various stage shows which were more in their comfort zone.

Sherman Brothers
The Brothers: Robert B and Richard M Sherman
Castiglioni came into his own in the Tigger number from Winnie the Pooh, as the rat, Templeton, in 'A Veritable Smorgasbord', written for the great comic Paul Lynde and 'Jiggery Pokery', another rat, in Sherman Jnr's recent show Bumblescratch, which is set among London plague rats, no less.

Williams' English Rose quality was perfectly deployed for 'Suddenly It Happens' from The Slipper and the Rose and in a deeply felt 'For Now For Always', written for Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap.

The Shermans have certainly left us a legacy of catchy tunes that will live forever as parents reintroduce their own kids to the material, and this show is a great reminder of that.



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