A Spoonful of Sherman continues at St James Theatre Studio, London, until 22 April.
This polished, classy and very well-sung revue is an action-replay of the pilot show that ran for two Mondays in January at the St James Studio and has returned to Victoria for nine more outings principally to celebrate the Oscar-winning music of the Sherman brothers.
A Spoonful of Sherman is Robbie Sherman’s tribute to his late dad Robert and uncle Richard who formed the most successful musical partnership in Hollywood in the 1960s with such mega-hit movies as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Robbie acts as narrator to a story that has spanned 90 years because grandfather Al was also a successful songwriter and now Junior is belatedly showing that the genes are as tuneful as ever with his own musical Bumblescratch, about a rat called Melbourne having a ball at the time of the Great Plague, that has yet to go beyond the workshop stage.
If Robbie’s ‘Music of the Spheres’, a song his father would have been proud to put his name to, is anything to go by, the Sherman name remains in excellent hands.
Surprisingly, that unfamiliar, modern song was my high spot of an evening that took many of us back to our second and third childhoods, the world of Disney, whimsy, corn and schmaltz.
During the formative years of an angst-ridden Bob Dylan and Jacques Brel fan, I have to confess that Poppins and Chitty always seemed far too optimistic and wholesome. In fact, even admitting you had seen a Julie Andrews movie or had actually laughed along with Dick Van Dyke’s bizarre Cockney accent, a breach of the Trades Descriptions Act, rendered you liable to mockery.
But it is impossible not to be swept along by the sheer enthusiasm and seamless interplay of this ultra-gifted cast of four, Greg Castiglioni, Stuart Matthew Price, Charlotte Wakefield and Emma Williams, backed by the simple piano of MD Colin Billing.
Of course, ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’, ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, the insidiously hummable ‘Chim-Chim-Cher-ee’ and the title song from Chitty are still as irritatingly upbeat as ever, but this quartet manages to give them a freshness that melts the heart.
Williams, of course, has a long-time connection with the Shermans because she was plucked straight from school at 18 to play Truly Scrumptious in the original West End version of Chitty at the Palladium in 2002. Twelve years on, she’s as truly scrumptious as ever, particularly in the clarity and purity of her soprano.
‘Tell Him Anything’ and ‘Suddenly It Happens’, the two songs she and Wakefield perform so beautifully from the 1976 Royal Command Performance film The Slipper and the Rose, remind the audience that the Sherman brothers were just as at home with the slower, thoughtful stuff as with the upbeat show-stoppers for which they were famous.
In general, Williams and Price got the ballads, Castiglioni the funny ones – his ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ from Jungle Book with Price doing some simian impressions and voice-trumpeting in the background is a knockout, ‘The Ugly Bug Ball’ and ‘A Veritable Smorgasbord’ not far behind – while Wakefield shows why she earned such raves for her Maria in last year’s open-air The Sound of Music.
She puts a new spin on the annoyingly catchy ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ and an all-dancing-and-singing duet with Price in the Shermans’ first big pop hit ‘You’re Sixteen’ is a lovely piece of staging.
But it is Price’s gorgeous interpretations of that dreamy lullaby ‘Hushabye Mountain’ (from Chitty) and Robbie’s superbly lyrical ‘Music of the Spheres’ which beat all-comers on a night of nostalgia that had many in the packed studio carrying the encore ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’ up the stairs and out of the door.
Okay, better late than never, I admit it; those Shermans were/are pretty darn good and this little show is the cracker that proves it.