Come to the cabaret, old chum, was the refrain I was singing in the bath this morning. The feel-good factor had persisted from last night’s performance at the Studio in St James’s Theatre near Buckingham Palace. To reach the Studio one descends into the basement, where there is an arrangement of small round tables and chairs, with a low stage at one end, to create the authentic intimate atmosphere of a cabaret. At the side is a bar, selling not only drinks but the most expensive little bags of organic hand-made popcorn this reviewer has ever nibbled.
But the show itself is priceless. It consists of a run-through, in chronological order, of songs by Al Sherman, the son of Jewish immigrants who came to New York from Eastern Europe, and by his sons, Robert and Richard Sherman. I must confess to never having heard of the Shermans père et deux fils. Surely they could not be in the same league as the likes of Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, or musical partnerships such as Rogers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe? It turns out that their songs are superbly crafted, and many are well known. Some stormed up the pop music charts in days gone by, including the retro favourite You’re 16, you’re beautiful and you’re mine.
But it is through their association with Walt Disney that the Sherman Brothers’ songs have reached their widest audience, and the current show features medleys from Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh and The Jungle Book, going on to the post-Disney classicChitty Chitty Bang Bang. These, and all the other songs chosen from the extensive oeuvre of Al, Robert and Richard Sherman, were put across to marvellous effect by four absolutely wonderful singers. Whether performing solo, or as duets, trios or quartets, the range of emotions, the technical virtuosity, the sheer physicality, were a feast for the ear and eye. No need for any sugar coating to help this musical medicine do down!
The show is held together by Robert J. Sherman, son of the late Robert Sherman, himself a composer. Indeed, he took to the piano a couple of times and performed very creditably, both in his singing and in his playing. But his main role is that of compère, providing the link between the songs and recounting the story of his grandfather, his father and his uncle. The highest accolade must go, however, to Colin Billing, who is not only the musical director and arranger, but also provides the piano accompaniment throughout the show. This is the only instrumental backing that the singers have, and Mr Billing plays it to perfection.
What really induced the ‘tingle factor’ for me, though, was when the piano briefly stopped playing and the singers joined in a four-part harmony of ethereal beauty. I left the Studio with my spirits uplifted, and would urge anyone in London to try and catch the show before it ends its brief run. But hurry. Space in the Studio is limited, and last night it was full up.