Wednesday 11th April 2018 at Harrogate Theatre.
A Spoonful of Sherman celebrates the wonderful works of the Sherman brothers and features a generous display of their work; with 31 songs in Act 1 and 24 in Act 2 – some within medleys and some complete – there’s no short changing to be found here. This is ‘new musical stage show’ from Robert J Sherman, meaning it’s more of a celebratory extravaganza of musical performances than a musical production. The cast take us on a journey through the works of the brothers which spans a century and boasts unrivalled success (they are responsible for more musical movie scores than any other songwriters or instance). Commentaries on the evolution of their style and tone are pithy and enlightening, offering context to the early need for optimism as the country faced the Depression, the vitality family union offered their works and the eventual and perhaps inevitable intrusion of resignation in their later work. But the work is only ever a hop, skip and a heel click away from joy and optimism however – it is often Disney-fuelled delight propelling the journey after all.Stewart Nicholls’ vision as director and choreographer demonstrates great affection for simpler times, with quaint little movements and dainty choreographed mannerisms – it’s all very light and it’s all smiles, all the time – even mentioning the Depression and short lived troubles doesn’t graze the bubble of joy surrounding the production. Set and costume from Gabriella Slade also captures the nostalgia of the production with a set offering glimpses of traditional pastimes and outdated gadgets while costumes are very cartoonish and playful with loud patterns in bright colours (something thematically picked up in Chris Withers’ lighting) proclaiming this show to be all about vibrancy and enjoyment. Musical arranger and supervisor Rowland Lee continues this tone of light-heartedness with his handling of the arrangements. The music and lyrics are the work of Richard M, Richard B, Al and Robert J Sherman – every member of the Sherman family to pen a beautiful note since the family stepped into the realm of songwriting. I would have liked a little more substance to the narrative between the songs though; the sheer volume of the material covered makes this show incredibly good value and thoroughly entertaining, but to cover 55 songs in one show, there is a need (admittedly strange considering the unquestionable quality of the performances) for some respite at times.And what a wonderful cast this show has, too… Sophie-Louise Dann’s narration is full of wisdom and warmth and I found myself wishful of her having more prominence in the narrated elements. Her vocals carry the same depth and quality as her narration and she is as adept with upbeat ditties as she is the ballads, but she gives a definite impression of having more of an affinity with the later matured and melancholic songs than the bouncy numbers; her voice soars most impressively when full of tragic notions. Jenna Innes has so much vocal range that it should probably be made illegal in order to give others a chance… Her performance is mostly sparky and twee but she is also afforded some lovely crooners in which she delivers show-stopping high notes and glorious vibrato. Glen Facey is the counterpart of Innes and takes on whimsical numbers with impressively sustained energy. He masters the art of reacting when not front and centre, giving the impression that he is as delighted as the audience to hear the heavenly sounds coming from his cast mates. His voice is as light as his step as he glides around the stage and achieves some lovely vibrato and gentle riffing, but he excels most with his charming delivery of quirky numbers featuring Jack-the-lad bounding choreography.Our pianists, responsible for all musical accompaniment are the multi-talented Mark Read and Ben Stock, who sing as well as commanding the keys. Mark Read is paired with Dann as the more mature voices taking on the more enlightened later songs while Innes and Facey primarily deliver the earlier tunes full of nativity and infinite youthful optimism. Read’s voice conquers the deepest of notes but also beautifully delivers a range of styles with a wonderfully diverse voice. Ben Stock is mostly to be found at the keys, but when he steps out for his numbers, he makes sure that we’re all completely taken with his energetic and charismatic performances of some of the most exuberant songs in the Sherman songbook, with The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers and the maniacal Crunchy Crackers being memorable highlights from across the whole show. Yet while each cast member impresses with their individually accomplished vocals, they also reach new heights with some exquisite harmonies – the kind that toy with the natural weight of beating hearts and pucker the skin into appreciative dimples.A Spoonful of Sherman is at heart a stupendous showcase of talent; it allows the cast to demonstrate wide ranging vocal prowess while reminding us all of just how superb the music of the Shermans was and remains. It has to be said that the unfaltering energy and emphasis on big smiles and coy choreography does at times slip from sugar-sweet to sickly-sweet, but that observation may just be my natural cynicism interfering with my enjoyment… It is the precision, vocal control and sheer beauty of the performances in this show which deserve packed out theatres – so if you’ve ever had a tune from Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang rolling around in your head for a day, this show is sure to delight!
Robert J Sherman’s A Spoonful of Sherman is presented by United Theatrical and Musicworld (UK). It tours the UK and Ireland until June 2018 and you can find tickets here .