BWW Review: SON OF A PREACHER MAN, Theatre Royal Brighton
The premise sounds promising: a brand new jukebox musical featuring the music of Dusty Springfield. Written by Warner Brown and directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, Son of a Preacher Man opened in Bromley in September 2017 and is currently touring the UK.
The show opens at The Preacher Man, a 1960s record shop in Soho where the owner, known as the "preacher man", gives out life advice to his adoring customers. Fast forward to present day, three individuals - newly widowed Alison (MIchelle Gayle), Kat (Alice Barlow) and Paul (Michael Howe) who both recently lost their gran and mother respectively - find themselves outside the former location of The Preacher Man (which is now a coffee shop).
The trio come looking for closure following recent losses and their/their loved ones' links to the record shop. They meet Simon (Nigel Richards), the son of the now deceased "preacher man", who attempts to act on behalf of his father in helping them.
Brown's book is the main issue with the show. The united grief of the three characters was what brought them on this pilgrimage, and this plot detail is entirely forgotten when the focus bizarrely turns to repairing the three characters' love lives instead of dealing with the fragile nature of their mourning.
Gayle plays Alison with a sincere spirit, almost convincing us of her character's bizarre fixation on a student she tutors. Barlow's Kat has a youthful naivete about her as she yearns after a guy she met online (Liam Vincent-Kilbride). Vincent-Kilbride is really quite charming as her sultry, cello-playing suitor.
Howe seems to be overacting at times as he portrays Paul, an impassioned retired bloke who wants to reconnect with a former crush he met in the record store in its heyday. His character becomes increasingly off-putting as he persists in pursuing his interest (Jon Bonner), a recent widower still very much grieving for his wife.
The serendipitous appearance of all three love interests in the same part of London on the same evening aseems highly unlikely given Paul, Kat and Alison do not live there.
Revel Horwood has a history of incorporating actor-musicians into his work, such as his 2010/2011 production of Chess. In some ways it's wonderful to have a full live ensemble sound for a touring show, under the direction of Brady Mould, for the vintage numbers. However, at times the actor playing instruments onstage are distracting or aren't a natural part of the storytelling, aside from scenes taking place in the music shop.
Other elements of Revel Horwood's direction that seem out of place include an over-the-top chicken impression as a "signal" during one scene and the milking of Vincent-Kilbride's Scottishness by having him wear a tight-fitting kilt in the second act - totally inappropriate attire for his character's occupation as a plumber.
There is also a strange routine involving characters dancing with empty plastic chairs in a group therapy scene. The rest of the choreography, on the other hand, is very entertaining.
Morgan Large's costume and set designs are visually impressive, if impractical at times. The large shopfront doors collided with a descending neon sign, which drew gasps from the audience during this performance.
Son of a Preacher Man will attract crowds who love the music of Dusty Springfield. The Springfield numbers are sung and danced very well, but attendees may be left disappointed by the overly contrived plot.
Son of a Preacher Man at Theatre Royal Brighton until 21 April
Photo credit: Theatre Royal Brighton