Friday, 11 August 2017

Review A Spoonful Of Sherman

A Spoonful Of Sherman
Music & Lyrics by Richard M Sherman & Robert B Sherman
Al Sherman and Robert J Sherman
Book by Robert J Sherman
Conceived by Robert J Sherman & Colin Billing

Worth A Lot More Than Tuppence

Awww, back in the day when TLT was an motorless tricycle learner driver, she treasured her mini-cache of  LPs (remember those?) amongst which was The Story And Songs From Mary Poppins with an illustrated booklet.
So even though she'd never seen the movie and the album (ah, those old fashioned words!) wasn't even the Disney film soundtrack, TLT and her very own like-minded chitty of an automobile can sing along to all the songs such as supercalifragi - califragi ...  califragi- er -lipstick  ... well, you know the one she means.

Now comes along an 85 minute celebration of the Sherman family tune- and wordsmithery, A Spoonful of Sherman. 

The title puns of course on another of the most famous Mary Poppins's songs, A Spoonful Of Sugar, apparently inspired by the polio vaccine sugar lump but ask TLT's seven year old self who wrote it - she probably would say, "Mary Poppins of course!".

No, dear, it was in reality written by the  New-York Sherman Brothers whose fame unusually lies in songs for movie musicals with the stage shows coming only relatively recently after the celluloid fact.

Yet the brothers were only  the fourth musical generation of an emigrant family from Stepantsy near Kiev in the Ukraine which arrived, via by-royal-appointment freelance musician posts in the Austro-Hungarian Emperor's court, in the musical melting pot of 1906 New York.
Musical director Christopher Hamilton at the piano with vocalists (with more than a smidgeon of subtle yet spot-on choreography as well directed by Stewart Nicholls) Helena Blackman and Daniel Boys join a fifth generation musical Sherman, Robert J, at the Brasserie Zedel's Crazy Coqs cabaret room.

Musically the show begins with granddad Al, born  in the old country, who became a successful Tinpan Alley composer, in an age dominated by music publishers and  song sheet music.

Al was a master of in-demand upbeat ditties such as Save Your Sorrow (For Tomorrow) with Buddy De Sylva and anthem to sports and dating (surely an American high school surefire hit!), "You Gotta Be A Football Hero", written with lyricists Al "Blueberry Hill" Lewis and Buddy Fields.

At the same time, with fellow songwriters Nat Burton and Arthur Altman, he could also turn his hand to a wistful wartime song There's A Harbour Of Dreamboats.

This song put TLT in mind of another celebrated 1940s' contemporary song - Walter Kent's and, ahhh, that's why!, Nat Burton's White Cliffs Of Dover.

However it's the brothers who certainly as the show puts it, wrote "The Songbook of  Your [TLT's] Childhood" and since, as far as TLT can remember, the booklet had the words and possibly the music on the long playing record, it's no exaggeration!

Not being musical specialists, TLT and her little jalopy had no idea 60s' bubblegum pop classic You're Sixteen was written by the fraternal duo in 1960  - beating Neil Sedaka's Sweet Sixteen by a year, even if The Sound Of Music's Sixteen Going On Seventeen  was a year before.

Indeed putting in context the songs (including lyricists' rhyming dictionaries!) was all part of the fun of this solidly enjoyable show for your own automotive duo. 

For this reason, it was the inclusion of the brothers' grandpoppy's roots in Austro-Hungary (where the waltz king Johann Strauss and all those operettas come from) and the brothers' pop Al Sherman (who also had a hobby later incorporated in another famous song) with Robert J's more recent works such as Music Of The Spheres which made A Spoonful Of Sherman a full-bodied experience for us. 

Helena Blackman soaring soprano easily encompassed a range of 20th century song styles from perky 1920s to near operetta to the limpid notes and musical hall idiom of Sherman Brothers' songs.

Meanwhile Daniel Boys put his own Eastenders stamp on chimney sweep Bert's songs from Mary Poppins and the doowop jazzy Jungle Book numbers (which TLT originally learned through  Kenny Ball and His Jazzman on the Morecambe and Wise Show).

Nevertheless it's the beautiful, tender harmonies of Blackman and Boys, especially with Feed The Birds (tuppence a bag!) which will stay with us.

However, a further surprise when Robert J took to the piano and sang the River Song from the 1973 musical adaptation of Tom Sawyer - TLT is certain there was reference to the very first word of James Joyce's epic and very musical novel Finnegans Wake (Robert B - Robert J's Dad, keep up at the back! 😉 - was a literature major!).

It's a practically perfect introduction drawing on a family fistful of songwriting characters, sadly missed and still living.

A family spanning  the change from songsheet publishing to movie technology - in a different way from, say, another Imperial Russian emigrant songwriter, Irving Berlin - with an inextricable golden link to movie mogul Walt Disney and the influence on the soundtracks of numerous films which have followed. So we're saving our sorrow for tomorrow 😀 and it's a green light.   

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