The music of Dusty Springfield surely embodies the sound of cool, sexy vibe of 60s Soho. So why you would not set a jukebox musical of her music in the 60s is anybody’s guess, but hey ho.
Son of a Preacher Man is the tale of three lonely hearts, Paul (Michael Howe), Alison (former Coronation Street actress Debra Stevenson) and Cat (X Factor finalist Diana Vickers), all of which have either experience or been told about an old record store called the Preacher Man, that was presided over by a mythical hep cate known as the Preacher Man, and he would dispense advice as well as vinyl. They set off for a pilgrimage, hoping he can fix their broken hearts, only to find he is long gone, and it has been bought out, converted into Coffee Shop, being managed by his son, Simon (Ian Reddington, a face you will recognise but won’t be able to put your finger on it), the eponymous ‘Son of a Preacher Man’. So far, so convoluted.
The lovelorn threesome pursue the reluctant barista for direction, and after pleading with his dead dad for a sign, Simon proceeds to break their hearts even further. Can he fix them after the interval? Probably, as long as they can work it around the songs.
I don’t go to many musicals but I am really pleased I went to this one, because it was so unintentionally hilarious. I imagine the script for any jukebox musical is a flimsy affair, being very secondary to the songs, but this one is pitiful. The three leads stories of unrequited love are love that they didn’t even act upon. Gay Paul admired a bloke from afar at the record shop, and waited 40 years to speak to him and find out he wasn’t gay. The story eschews the obvious sympathy we would feel for widow Alison’s loss of her husband, for her lust at a barely legal student she is teaching. And Kat ‘fell in love’ with a profile on a dating website, but he didn’t reply to her wink. The are hardly star-crossed lovers, and the audience is not going to invest in these stories or care about these characters.
Aside from Vickers, the singing from the leads and the ensemble chorus (who also play brass instruments all the way through) is ok, but hardly inspiring. It is jarring to hear the powerful, husky voice emitting from Vickers’ mouth, as its at odds with her chavvy character, but I guess you can’t complain about someone being a good performer.
Craig Revel-Horwood is the director and choreographer, and gets top billing on the posters. Well, from this showing, he owes his place on the Strictly Judges panel to his acerbic wit and nothing else. From the twirling with and mooning over empty chairs to ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself (I thought this scene was at a bereavement meeting, but it turned out it was at a Speed Dating event. They were both being held at the same venue on the same night – don’t ask!) to the Myley Cyrus style thrusting to I Only Wanna Be With You (surely one of Dusty’s most innocuously unsexy songs), CRH achieves smirks and giggles from the crowd, but not much else. I would urge any celeb on Strictly to go and watch this, and then when he starts turning his nose up at your Pasodoble, you can let him have it both barrels.
The whole thing reminds me of a school production with a bigger budget, but that doesn’t mean its not fun. And unintentional hilarity is often far funnier than the real thing. I doubt it will be the next ‘Springtime for Hitler’, but if you can get a cheap ticket, I think you’ll enjoy it.