“Today is yesterday’s tomorrow”
If anyone should be allowed to write a musical about the 4 penguins from Mary Poppins, then it makes sense that it should be a man who is the son and nephew of the composers from that film. For Robert J Sherman is very much continuing in the family business – his father Robert B and uncle Richard being the Sherman Brothers who are among the most successful film songwriters in history, a legacy explored by Robert J in his A Spoonful of Sherman show – with his own venture into musical theatre with Love Birds.
The show premiered to generally great acclaim in Edinburgh last summer and a cast recording was subsequently made, allowing the show to live on in hopeful anticipation of further life. And on first listen, it’s no grandiose claim, for Love Birds captures much of the easy but deceptively simple charm that served his forebears so well. The show centres on a 1920s avian vaudeville run by a dinosaur (stay with me…) struggling to deal with the necessary changes to stay with the ever-changing times.
So Sherman can both pay homage to and pastiche the music of the time and it is shinily, brightly done, even as it smuggles in slightly darker themes between the lines. So we get an interspecies relationship between a penguin and a parrot, sweetly essayed by George Knapper and Ruth Betteridge especially in the title track, Greg Castiglioni’s macaw is caught in the throes of addiction – to ‘Crunchy Crackers’, it’s always lightly amusing but not at all lightweight.
And the choice of era is cannily done as it allows Sherman to explore so many facets of its musical history – barbershop quartets, jazz and ragtime allowing for Charleston, burlesque and soft-shoe routines, the sense of epochal change is extremely well realised, especially since Love Birds is barely over an hour long as it stands. I don’t think it’ll be too long before we see it take flight again.