If you were born after World War II, chances are the songs Winnie the Pooh, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Spoonful of Sugar, Bare Necessities and It’s a Small World After All were part of the musical accompaniment to growing up.
But most don’t know the songwriting brothers behind them: Richard and Robert Sherman, a team that wrote more movie musical scores than any other songwriters in history.
Last week, at its 3Below Theaters in San José, Guggenheim Entertainment presented the U.S. premiere of A Spoonful of Sherman, a revue of the Sherman family’s multi-generational century of songwriting, written by Robert Sherman’s son Robert J. (Robbie) Sherman.
It’s an evening of all things unabashedly Sherman that can’t fail to delight.
The songs roll out in brisk suggestion, thanks to the perfect timing of the talented singing and dancing troupe of Shannon Guggenheim, Stephen Guggenheim, Susan Gundunas, F. James Raasch, Teresa Swain, versatile pianist Barry Koron and director Scott Guggenheim. (The Guggenheims are another musical theater family: Scott and Steve are brothers and Shannon is Scott’s wife).
No single performance stands out, simply because every performance in the show is a polished-perfect gem — no mean feat for a show with 55 songs, and a testimonial to Scott Guggenheim’s direction.
Sons of tunesmith Al Sherman — composer of Maurice Chevalier’s hit Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight — Richard and Robert Sherman began writing songs in 1951, a plan suggested by their father who thought that one boy with a degree in literature and a second with a degree in music made a natural songwriting team.
Al was right. The brothers hit the ground running with their first hit — Bright and Shiny, sung by Doris Day — and never stopped for half a century. Their early hits were rock ‘n roll and country tunes. They penned You’re 16, You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine, which made the Top Ten not once, but twice.
The brothers’ first Top Ten hit song, Tall Paul, caught the attention of Walt Disney, who hired them as staff songwriters.
“[Disney] could have had Rogers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe,” Robbie Sherman told the audience Saturday night. “But Walt saw a special ability to write.”
The Sherman brothers’ deft humor, catchy lyrics, sing-able tunes and unaffected sentiment created a unique — and un-reproducible — synergy with Disney’s musicals.
Today, Robbie Sherman is carrying the family tradition forward not only in Spoonful of Sherman, but also with his show one-act Love Birds, which toured in the UK and which he hopes to see staged in the U.S. in a two-act version. He also hopes to stage his father’s and uncle’s never-staged theater musical Busker Alley.
10 Years in the Making
When the curtain opened on Spoonful of Sherman in San José last week, it was the result of a decade of effort, as well as an illustration of It’s a Small World. It’s also an appropriate show for the multigenerational Guggenheim show business family, which has its own portfolio of original musicals and premiere productions.
Spoonful of Sherman was a natural fit, said Scott, because he and his brother shared a love of Sherman Brothers’ songs since pre-school. “We loved those movie musicals.”
In 2006, when the company first performed its original holiday show, the Meshuganutcracker, they were interviewed on a TV show with Richard Sherman. “We tried to convince him to let us do [Sherman] shows,” said Scott. Richard told him that he would have to talk to Richard’s wife. For three years they talked.
“We were talking to that side of the family,” Scott said. “We were talking with a London theater [that had performed Love Birds] that connected us with Robbie.” The younger Sherman had created the first version of Spoonful of Sherman, an album of songs that was a memorial to his late father Robert.
The Guggenheims finally got permission to do Spoonful of Sherman as an expanded, staged show. But their theater, the Retrodome (former Century 25) on Prospect Road in San José shut down when the property was sold to a developer in 2013. The theater company wouldn’t find another home until 2017 when it re-opened San José’s Camera One as 3Below (a reference to the three theaters below the parking garage).
Spoonful of Sherman plays Thursdays through Sundays through May 5, 2019. Evening shows are at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $36-$54. Subscribers get 40 percent discount. For information visit 3belowtheaters.com/events/a-spoonful-of-sherman/