Family, and the wealth of inspiration found therein, is the clear theme in Robert J. Sherman’s musical tribute to his late father Robert B. Sherman. Son of the genius behind the hugely celebrated Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sherman stirs his audience into a flurry of romantic nostalgia as he charmingly adorns the studio of the St James Theatre with his father’s legacy. A true demonstration of timeless songwriting that greatly contributed to Disney’s golden years, it is quite astounding to be confronted with the seemingly endless catalogue of melodies that are cherished right across the world. Robert B. Sherman watches benignly from the backdrop as a quartet of the West End’s finest tries on a selection of his songs for size. Thankfully, they fit perfectly.
Robert J. Sherman begins this euphonious eulogy by introducing us to, or rather reacquainting us with, his family’s long-running involvement in the music industry. Collectively, the three generations of men boast nearly ninety years of musical prowess. The show, following a simple chronology, serves to demonstrate both the evolution of musical style within the family and Sherman’s endless admiration for his ancestors. First of all, the works of grandfather Al Sherman are revived by the vocalists: Greg Castiglioni, Stuart Matthew Price, Charlotte Wakefield and Emma Williams. The foursome handle each song with notable care, paying close attention to the conventions of the era before swiftly embarking on the legendary repertoire of Robert B. Sherman which forms the main body of the show. A wonderful tapestry of his individual songs is beautifully interspersed with medleys of his more renowned works which result in more than a few feet tapping.
A Spoonful of Sherman is, in charmingly American fashion, openly sentimental, which is the perfect way to pay tribute to a man who to this day evokes such great emotion through his songs. The four vocalists glide through the repertoire’s varying styles with enviable ease, moving from American to British and displaying their flawless technique. Charlotte Wakefield perfectly embodies the iconic Mary Poppins and her reinvention of Julie Andrews’ clipped diction has the audience grinning with joyous admiration. While Stuart Matthew Price lends his soaring tenor to some of the more sombre of Sherman’s songs, Greg Castiglioni’s comic abilities fill the space with uproarious laughter and together they create something of an emotional whirlwind. The standout performance is without a doubt Emma Williams who descends on the stage as nothing short of ethereal. Her stillness and masterful stage presence are augmented by her voice which has both crystalline purity and laudable range. Towards the end of the show, Robert J. Sherman plays and sings a sample of his own compositions and while his performance lacks the polish of the cast, it is equally impressive due to his clear and candid emotional connection to his work.
The informal caberet atmosphere of A Spoonful of Sherman is perfect for conjuring up the fond nostalgia that inevitably accompanies each of Sherman’s beloved songs. As compère, Robert J. Sherman is delightful, lightly mocking himself as he stumbles through the narrative. His affable clumsiness is expertly counteracted by the pianist Colin Billing who dexterously manoeuvres his way about the tinkling melodies with awe inspiring ability and, as the show ends, the audience are on the edge of their seats yearning for more than a measly ‘spoonful’.
Reviewed by Alex Foott
Performance date – Monday 13th January 2014