A Spoonful of Sherman at St James
In the basement studio of St James Theatre, Robert J Sherman, son of legendary songwriter Robert B Sherman, introduces a wide variety of his father’s music, from the familiar (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book) to the less well-known. Sherman reads the narrative of his father’s life, introducing each song as he goes and a group of four soloists takes over, accompanied only by Colin Billing on the piano.
Many of the songs that are performed are about love or dreams or happiness and it would be easy to allow cynicism to take over. But there are plenty of powerful, recognisable tunes (A Spoonful of Sugar, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) that conjure up iconic movie scenes and childhood memories so that any growing cynicism easily fades.
There is a strange intensity having the singers performing big show tunes to such a small audience. By the end, however, when the audience has been warmed up and begins to clap or sing along to almost every song, this intensity turns into intimacy, the performers start to ad lib with comic asides and the basement studio becomes a music hall.
Each singer has their own standout moment, and none of them is remotely below par. Greg Castiglioni’s version of A Veritable Smorgasbord is particularly funny, while Comes A-Long A-Love sung by Charlotte Wakefield and Mother Earth and Father Time by Emma Williams captivate the audience completely. These singers have to rival some of the most iconic voices in musical history: Julie Andrews, Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra. While it is not difficult to better Dick Van Dyke’s singing ability (or Cockney accent), it is no mean feat to reinvent songs that are so inextricably wedded to a particular voice. But these performers manage excellently and showcase powerful voices.
Robert J Sherman is not the most natural narrator, but he has a friendly, self-deprecating style and a very apparent and deep devotion to his father. After his moving, choked up, conclusory remarks the cast ends with a hit of nostalgia for anyone who spent their childhood (or beyond) watching Mary Poppins: a full-force rendition of Let’s Go Fly a Kite. There is schmaltz, silliness and sentimentality throughout but none of this is a bad thing; what is apparent, above all, is Sherman’s ability to write songs with staying power and emotional acuity, which is why we’re still singing them 50 years later.
A Spoonful of Sherman was on at St James for one night only, for further information and future events visit here.