Touring – reviewed at Greenwich Theatre, London
You might not realise it, but the Sherman family have probably been part of your life for quite some time. Since the early 20th century, they’ve built up their own version of a family business: songwriting. That’s the premise of A Spoonful of Sherman, a show put together by Robert J. Sherman that is in the middle of a nationwide tour – currently residing at Greenwich Theatre.
It’s kind of a revue with a difference. The family’s story is told (starting with Al Sherman), interspersed with songs in rough chronological order, or those that have narrative value. It heads all the way up to the current generation, including some of Robert J. Sherman’s work – following in his father and uncle’s footsteps (Robert B. & Richard, respectively). By the time the end is reached, you’ve been treated to anything from Tin Pan Alley classics and Disney film tracks to musical theatre numbers.
The songs have been arranged for mostly piano and vocal combinations, with the occasional bit of ukelele (and sometimes both pianos are employed at the same time). Musical arranger and supervisor Rowland Lee has done a good job, and they are of course performed excellently, but inevitably there are moments where you find yourself longing for a little more variety. Particularly as there are a few songs which have very similar piano parts; they don’t quite sound the same, but it can be slightly repetitive on the ear.
There are times where it feels a bit twee, thanks to the old-fashioned (some might say outdated) ideas in the songs as well as some rather ‘literal’ choreography (Stewart Nicholls) – such as the chorus to ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. (I do have to hold my hands up and say that I’ve only ever seen Mary Poppins once, and that was when I was very little, so if this is a homage to the film I can just about forgive it.)
But for these occasional cloying moments, there are many more exceptional ones. My favourite section is undoubtedly The Jungle Book, conjuring up memories of seeing the film for the first time and crying when I thought Baloo was dead. ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ is filled with great vocal gymnastics – then ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’ comes in with actual gymnastics. It’s a very dynamic display from the entire company, especially Glen Facey on lead vocals (and chucking himself about!). As well as ‘old-fashioned’, the material can be described as ‘classic’ – and, perhaps, ‘timeless’ – evoking nostalgia from every pore.
Each and every one of the company of five does their fair share, and they have clearly gelled as a team, enjoying each & every moment on stage. Sophie-Louise Dann’s voice is maybe a little big at times, but as usual she brings oodles of character – something you could also say about Ben Stock, often on piano but also stepping out to take centre stage (including memorable renditions of The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers and Crunchy Crackers (from Love Birds). Mark Read also impresses, with a voice naturally suited to this style of music. To me, Jenna Innes is the real discovery of this show; her voice rings clear and she displays a great sense of fun. You could easily imagine her in any of the stage roles she gets to sing here.
And I’ve got this far without mentioning the set! Gabriella Slade’s design is incredibly cute, very easy on the eye, and full of lots of fun little background details. It’s lit beautifully (Chris Withers) and this lighting design is capable of altering the mood instantly – I’m also very enamoured with the backlit windows changing colour.
My verdict? Overall, a sweet little show that is guaranteed to make you feel nostalgic, slickly performed by a talented cast – you will leave the auditorium still humming the tunes!