Writer: Warner Brown
Director: Craig Revel Horwood
Reviewer: Jo Payne
From the opening trumpet, it’s clear that this show’s music will be a strong element. And so it should. The music of Dusty Springfield is loved the world over and, for this jukebox musical, the songs have had a bit of a makeover. Recognisable songs have a slightly different rhythm, tempo or story to them and this energetic cast let the audience enjoy these changes.
The narrative centres around a Soho cafe which, in the 60s, was inhabited by The Preacher Man. He had spent his days handing out advice whilst playing Dusty Springfield tracks and so is the perfect place for our three protagonists to end up a few decades later. Paul (Nigel Richards), Alison (Michelle Gayle) and Kat (Alice Barlow), all searching for love having suffered losses, pilgrimage to the bar to help them in their quest. When they find the joint, it is run by the son of the Preacher Man (see what they did there?), Simon. Simple Simon is the heart of the show. His dad was a legend of the neighbourhood but his life is very different. While the plot revolves around his three new friends, it is him who drives the show.
A talented cast of performers tread the boards in this show and in a move that has become a bit of a trend in touring productions in recent years, instruments are played live on stage by the performers throughout the show. However, the concept isn’t fully utilised in the same way many actor/musician shows have in the past.
A twee but adaptable set by Morgan Large, takes the audience through various London venues and streets fairly easily. Other production elements, including lights and sounds, support the telling of the story and the performances of the songs without being too intrusive or obvious. With Craig Revel Horwood at the helm, one would expect great things of the musical staging in this show. Unfortunately, it completely misses the mark, with some weird choreography and distracting props.
What lets this production and its cast down is the disjointed and sometimes outright strange storyline, which has been chosen to weave the songs of Dusty Springfield together. The predictable plot contains hollow characters who, aside from Simon, are difficult to believe and hard to empathise with. The actors do a fitting job of bringing them to life but odd scripting choices and gaping holes leave a weak story to contrast with the brilliant songs.
Despite the poor plot, comedic moments are scattered throughout the show to which the audience respond well. Apart from the electric opening medley which sets high expectations for the rest of the show, the musical highlight of the show is the lesser-known song, Spooky. It is presented as a musical interlude from the story, just two people singing a Dusty song together on the street.
By suspending some disbelief and focusing on the musical numbers in the show, it’s possible to enjoy an evening watching Son of a Preacher Man. The audience are certain to be on their feet at the end and all go home with the title number playing in their heads.
Runs until 21st April 2018 | Image: Darren Bell (showing previous cast)