SON OF A PREACHER MAN
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 13th September, 2017
The words ‘jukebox musical’ are enough to send a shiver down this reviewer’s spine. Stephen King should write one. Perhaps Pet Sematary using the music of The Animals. Mr King, however, would endow his show with a plot worth following. Here, sadly, writer Warner Brown does not.
Paul (Michael Howe) yearns to reignite his crush on a boy from his youth spent in a Soho record shop; Alison (Debra Stephenson), newly widowed but reeling from an attraction to one of her students, has a hankering to visit the Soho record shop her mum was always banging on about; Kat (Diana Vickers), following the death of the grandmother who brought her up, finds her way to the Soho record shop in which her gran had so many happy times… Three strangers with the same record shop in common – sort of – meet at the corner of Old Compton Street only to find that record shop is now a coffee franchise, called Double Shot (although the cup motif on the sign could represent a different vowel). Here’s where the shoehorn comes in: the record shop’s name was Preacher Man. The proprietor was some kind of community guru, also called the Preacher Man. They are both long gone, but living above the coffee shop and working there as manager is Simon (Ian Reddington) who, all together now, is the Son of – well, you can see where it is going. Simon embarks on a quest to solve the problems of the three strangers but, frankly, I couldn’t care less.
I think it’s the overall tone that stops me from engaging. The story is tosh but they carry on as if it’s somehow mystical and significant. A bit of tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink to say, Look, we know it’s tosh, but come along with us, would have made the show more fun. This means the songs, each one a belter of a track from Dusty Springfield’s oeuvre, are made ridiculous: at a bereavement group, the members sing mournfully ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’, dancing with empty plastic chairs.
The performers range from competent to excellent, many of them playing instruments with flair and panache. Of the lot, Diana Vickers has by far the best voice and it’s a treat to hear her – but, of course, no one can match Ms Springfield. Mercifully, they don’t try to. A stand-out number for me is ‘Spooky’ performed by Sandra (Ellie-Jane Goddard) accompanied by Michael Howe.
There is a trio of backing singers, the Capuccino Sisters, who like the girls in Little Shop of Horrors add harmony and humour to proceedings. Vocally, Michelle Long, Kate Hardisty and Cassiopeia Berekely-Agyepong are great but in this po-faced world, their sassiness comes across as cynical and mean-spirited. Or perhaps I’m just projecting my responses onto them! There is Madge, the cleaner, a ‘comic’ role (played by Jon Bonner) which is a throwback to the era of the fictitious record shop of the time. One word: cringe.
Director Craig Revel Horwood needs to loosen things up and not try to sell this lightweight fare as something we should take seriously. Horwood also choreographs and, while the dancing is tight, sometimes balletic even, the moves are often inappropriate, needlessly suggestive – as though he has remembered this is a show adults will go and see and perhaps will swallow the juvenile plot if he spices things up a bit. The Capuccino Sisters virtually humping the tables they’re serving is at odds with the heartfelt/bubblegum stylings of Springfield’s exemplary pop.
Banal twaddle though this may be, it is performed well by a talented cast who work their socks off, making me wish they would dispense with the story and just give us a concert instead.
Ah well. I’m off to write a show about a woman who loses a scratchcard at the seaside, using the back catalogue of, I don’t know, Alma Cogan or somebody.