Spotlight on: “An Evening With Richard M. Sherman”

  The El Capitan Theater In Hollywood

On Friday evening, February 26, I had the extreme pleasure of taking a trek up to the “El Capitan Theater” in Hollywood to see Composer-Lyricist Richard M. Sherman perform some of his best loved melodies. Considering the Academy Award Winner has received his most significant accolades for film-work, it seems only appropriate that this was held in the fully restored cinematic palace on Hollywood Blvd. 

 Long celebrated for their wholesome family-friendly fare, anyone born after 1970 is likely to be familiar with the work of Richard and his older sibling Robert–in fact, many of their songs have reached iconic status. “It’s a Small World” (which he jokingly calls the number one ’ear-worm’ out there) is one of the most recognizable tunes across the globe. At one point, he engaged the audience in a sing-along, and immediately it was like I was transported back to the second grade. Similarly, you have to wonder how many in the house actually remember riding on the “The Carousel of Progress”? After debuting at the 1964 World’s Fair, it went on to become a popular attraction at Disneyland that still exists in a similar form at Walt Disney World; nonetheless, for some of us, fun recollections of the original do linger, accompanied no doubt by strains of that brilliant theme, ”There’s A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow” (–courtesy of the brothers of course.)

Richard Sherman At The Piano

Amusement-park ditties comprised only part of the entertainment though–after all, the guys won two Oscars for their work on “Mary Poppins” (–one for the classic “Chim, Chim Cheree”, the other for “Best Score“.) In addition, they were nominated seven more times! Richard does confess however, that its another selection from the same movie–the hymn-like “Feed The Birds” that’s said to be Walt’s personal favorite.

Also recounted was how Producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli (best known for the James Bond 007 series,) called upon the pair to work their magic on his movie about an eccentric inventor with two children and their ’fine four fendered friend”–an extraordinary auto named “Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang”. Urged by Walt himself to take on the project, the result was another instant masterpiece. “Many people think it’s from Disney anyway,“ the “Songwriting Hall Of Famer” chuckles, and word has it that upon seeing the finished cut, the renown Studio-head admitted that he actually wished it was. This score especially, illustrates the witty and insightful turn of phrase the talented tunesmiths infused into everything they wrote (–listen to the sublime inspiration in their little hummer, “Grow The Roses” for proof.)

The entire second half of the program was devoted to a sampling of the master music-maker’s current project–a new Musical comedy called “Pizzazz”, about the life of turn-or-the-century comic duo, Fields and Webber. Considered by many to be the most innovative stand-up team ever to emerge from Vaudeville, they influenced such later giants as Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello to name a few.


Richard Sherman & Milt Larsen: The men behind the Musical

Joined by his collaborator on the project, Milt Larsen, (the owner-proprietor of Hollywood’s landmark “Magic Castle”,) in the absence of a complete book, both sat on the side of the stage taking turns setting each scene. While it’s never good form to review a work in progress, I can say the performances delivered, and the numbers they introduced were well received by just about everyone there. With this in mind, the following is meant only as a simple background of what was presented, and not any kind of “in-depth” critique (…still, there were a few stand out moments that are worth mentioning.)

Although maybe not familiar with Messrs. Fields and Weber personally, from the polished portrayals given by Dan Saunders and Joey D’Auria respectively, one gets the distinct impression they hit pretty close to the mark. Interesting too is that an important aspect to all of Sherman’s scores involves establishing the time period early on (“A British Man” and “Sister Suffragettes” in “Mary Poppins”, or “Bed Knobs & Broomstick’s” “Soldier’s Of The Old Home Guard” are prime examples;) here was no different, introducing the story as a flashback by (of all things,) the Statue of George M. Cohan in Times Square. Clad in copper face-paint and a metallic suit, dashing song-and-dance man Bill Lewis effectively raised the curtain on what was to be a rousing salute to old Broadway in ”The Great White Way”.

Immediately following, we learn that young Cohan’s career got a solid boost from the jolly twosome and he, along with his sister Josie, are key characters in what appears to be the production‘s sub-plot. Indeed, as depicted by Adam Wylie and Amy Gillette, their bouncy, up beat duet, simply titled “Josie“, is pure Sherman!

Cast of the new musical "Pizzazz"

 Gilmore Rizzo and John Eddings also did an excellent job as the villainous ‘Skinner and Kahn‘–rival producers, who are given a fiendishly first-rate “Bad Guy” ballad with “Devious Deeds“. In an ironic twist, what these swindlers don’t realize is that while they’re out cheating the hapless hopefuls of New York‘s blossoming theater district, their ‘Gal Friday‘, Miss Finchball (played by energetic and engaging guest-star, Joanne Worley) is herself dipping into the company till. So much more than that high pitched operatic trill that has become her trademark, its always exciting to witness a bona-fide industry legend in action, as she thoroughly charmed the audience by belting out “Another Dear Uncle” (–relating to how this secretary explains away the comfortable lifestyle she’s living on the meager wages that her less-than-scrupulous bosses are paying her.)

Joanne Worley as "Miss Finchball"

So what’s next for the gents who put the “Super” in “Supercalifragilistic”? On Thursday, March 11 they will receive another honor, arguably even rarer than the others, when Disneyland is slated to give them their own “window” on Main Street U.S.A. (As any true ‘Disney-phile“ is aware, such a distinction is reserved only for those who have demonstrated exceptional service to the organization.) Then, this Spring will see the opening of “The World Of Color” at Disney’s California Adventure which will showcase one of their old tunes as its central theme.
On that Friday night in Hollywood though, the atmosphere was thick with happy memories connected to the songs that reignited them–many of which, I’m sure, lots of us hadn’t realized we’d missed…such is the fascination of a true showman’s art, and such a showman is Richard Sherman!


(Special thanks to Lance Perkins and Harlan Boll for their assistance in preparing this article; photos by Lance Perkins)  


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