It’s scary being reminded of so much of one’s youth in a single evening and realising that, yes, your parents really did buy you the single (which you played incessantly) of “Let’s Get Together” featuring twice as much Hayley Mills as might be considered decent for an impressionable 10 year old. But the Sherman dynasty stretches back three generations and as our sometimes faltering host, Robert J Sherman (son of Robert B), repeatedly reminded us there really wasn’t a time – from the 1940s onwards – when a song bearing the Sherman monogram was not somewhere in our consciousness. Of course, we think primarily of Disney and whimsy, of ugly bugs, heffalumps, woozles, tiggers, and all things supercalifragilisticexpialidocious… But there’s method in the madness, there’s skill in the insidious catchiness, and most of all Sherman songs do their damndest, and mostly succeed, in making children of us once more.
So “A Spoonful of Sherman” was for the most part an evening of second and third childhoods, of foot tapping, beaming smiles, and the dreaded rhythmic hand clapping which once more drove Chitty Chitty Bang Bang skywards. The charm positively oozed from our four young stars – Greg Castiglioni, Stuart Matthew Price, Charlotte Wakefield, and Chitty “veteran” Emma Williams – but like the songs themselves the art concealing art stopped the sweetness from cloying and the silliness from rankling. A knowingness prevailed, a comic rivalry, as Stuart Matthew Price lent his simian accompaniment (and jazz trumpet) to Greg Costiglioni’s “I Wanna Be Like You” and Charlotte Wakefield looked like she might she might volunteer to say everything backwards, not just the big word from Poppins. Costiglioni (who made such an impression in the Southwark Titanic) must have been a rat in another life: “A Veritable Smorgasbord” was whisker-twitching in its relish.
But joking aside, there are lots of home truths in these songs – child-like and otherwise (no wonder Disney called Robert J Sherman “the poet”) – and what caught my ear, along with that dreamiest of lullabies “Hushabye Mountain” (gorgeously sung by Stuart Matthew Price), were the two songs from The Slipper and the Rose – “Suddenly It Happens” and even more striking “Tell Him Anything” which Emma Wakefield really sold. I had forgotten how good they were. And – a real surprise to demonstrate that the legacy lives on – “Music of the Spheres” by Robert J Sherman (given a real sheen by Stuart Matthew Price). I want to hear that again, as I do “The Whistle Tune” from Busker Alley which could have been big on Broadway had Tommy Tune not injured his foot. Charlotte Wakefield (who was such a feisty Maria in the Park last year) sang that like it was already a standard. She has it all going on and I for one want to see where she’s headed next.