A Spoonful of Sherman

By Richard Barber

There can’t be too many people who couldn’t sing along to I Wan’na Be Like You from Disney’s The Jungle Book, or the title song from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, or pretty much everything from Mary Poppins: Feed the Birds, Let’s Go Fly a Kite or the tongue-twisting Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius. But hands up anyone who can name the brothers who wrote the music and lyrics. Thought not. And yet, in their native America, Robert and Richard Sherman are right up there with Rodgers and Hammerstein or George and Ira Gershwin.

So this new show celebrating the songbook of the Shermans is welcome indeed. Actually, it isn’t entirely new. Conceived by Robert’s son, Robbie, it first saw the light of day at the St James Theatre in 2014, with Robbie himself acting as narrator. It’s now been given something of a spring clean and a new cast as it embarks on a 22-date tour of the UK and Ireland, finishing up in Dublin at the start of June.

You’ll no longer see Robbie on stage. But at each venue, he’ll be present on at least one evening to answer any questions in the interval about the memorabilia on display, including the two Oscars won for best song (Chim Chim Cher-ee) and Best Music Score for Mary Poppins in 1965. The revue now boasts five singers – Sophie-Louise Dann, Glenn Facey, Jenna Innes, Mark Read and Ben Stock – the last two highly proficient pianists. The story moves at a lick from the moment we learn about the brothers’ musician father, Al, who imbued the family with a strong work ethic and a fierce loyalty.

‘Always together, always one’ was the motto that carried them across America as they composed and performed the musical backdrop to 20th-century life. To a British audience, You’re Sixteen is probably the first tune we can all whistle, having got to number three in the UK charts in 1961 sung by Johnny Burnette, and then bagging the top spot
13 years later with a rare solo single from Ringo Starr.

From there on, hit follows hit, each one put across with real verve and vim, the harmonies never less than spot on. Invidious to single out anyone, but Miss Dann, a musical theatre veteran and a memorable Barbara Castle in Made in Dagenham, steals the honours with her warmth and her wit. So, a little old-fashioned? Yes, a bit. But utterly charming? Yes, a lot.

Next dates are 26-28 February at Theatre Royal, St Helens: 01744- 756 000. For tour details: www. aspoonfulofsherman.com