With such names attached to this new musical as Craig Revel Horwood (Director and Musical Staging) and television's Debra Stephenson (Alison) and Ian Reddington (Simon), as well as pop-reality star Diana Vickers (Kat), it’s no wonder the foyer of the New Theatre was busy and buzzing on Tuesday evening, as the audience prepared to settle down for an aural treat in the form of the music of Dusty Springfield. With the stern Strictly judge at the helm of the show, I was excited to see how he had brought the brilliant Ms Springfield’s back catalogue to the stage.
In the way that Mamma Mia! puts an interesting, if somewhat convoluted, story to the music of Abba, so too does Son of a Preacher Man, with the hits of Dusty Springfield. Written by internationally-renowned Warner Brown the story is based around the legacy of a 1960s London record store, The Preacher Man. It brings together three lovelorn strangers, of differing ages and generations, all of whom have a connection to the ‘legendary’ Preacher Man store. The owner of the store (also known as The Preacher Man, due to his ability to provide wise words to those in need) is long gone, but his son, Simon, lives on (Ian Reddington), above the record store, which has now become a strange little coffee shop. I say strange because it is staffed by the Cappuccino Sisters energetically and audaciously played by Michelle Long, Kate Hardisty and Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong in quirky waitress outfits and wigs with strutting, sexy omnipresence. Our three protagonists all find themselves at a crossroads in their love-life, and come together at the café, where they implore Simon to help them, as his father would have done.
The story took some getting my head around, to be honest, and because of the speed that everything seemed to be happening in the lives of all of the main characters, I found it really difficult to find any connection or empathy with them. In the programme, Brown states that he found it easy to fit Springfield’s songs into the world he wanted to create, but I’m afraid this doesn’t come across on stage. While the musical numbers were performed well by the whole cast, I found it hard going to keep up with the narrative.
As mentioned above, the role of Kat, the youngest of the strangers, was supposed to be played by Diana Vickers, but due to illness we were instead treated to an evening with understudy Jess Barker. While it’s unfortunate that Vickers was unwell, I can safely say that Barker gave an outstanding performance. Both her acting and singing were fabulous and out of all three protagonists I found her strand of the story the most believable and the one I was most able to connect with.
The choreography was a little disappointing, considering how harsh Mr Revel Horwood can be on the Strictly stars, and while sometimes I couldn’t understand why the company were milling around the stage - possibly to imply the passage of time, or change of scene - I did enjoy having the musicians on-stage; trombones, trumpets, cellos and violins bringing an authentic edge to the show.
I can imagine it is difficult bringing a brand new musical to the stage, and while I can see some teething issues with this show, I still had an enjoyable evening. The eponymous song was worth the wait at the end of the performance, with the whole company getting involved and the audience all having a jolly good time too.