The Alhambra Theatre, Bradford – until 16th June 2018.
Reviewed by Sally Richmond
‘Fabulous darling!’ and ‘A ten from Len’ are two most definitely deserved comments that one could say about the new musical, Son of a Preacher Man, which is directed and musically staged by Strictly’s very own bad boy, Craig Revel Horwood. If you think this show is a story about Dusty Springfield’s life then you’re wrong and when asked about the use of the icon’s songs and show’s title, the writer Warner Brown, said ‘The story came first, and then I thought this has got to be as if those (Dusty) songs were written for a musical. You come to a point where you need to go into song, and there was a Dusty song to fit it.’ Son of a Preacher Man may not be about Dusty but what it is about is love, a subject most of her legendary songs covered. Long-lost love, unrequited and lustful are but a few amongst loves many multifaceted mysteries and this musical extravaganza explores them all.
The show, which has now come to The Alhambra Theatre, the jewel in Bradford’s crown, is about three strangers from three different generations, who describe themselves as ‘a mess’ and ‘looking for direction’. They all find themselves at Dean Street in London’s Soho, searching for a record shop called Preacher Man, a place from the past where vinyl and Dusty were once at the forefront of a young hipster’s life. What the trio want from the Preacher Man is answers, solutions, wisdom and guidance to help them sort out their disastrous love lives.
Paul (Michael Howe), the oldest of the three, used to frequent the shop back in the day when the Preacher Man was actually there in the flesh during the Swinging 60s and it was here he fell for Jack (Jon Bonner). As Paul reflects, we the audience are invited to quietly watch a private moment between a young Paul and Jack, exploring the possibilities of their relationship in a moving and sensual dance performance. Sadly, nothing transpired between the two young men due to ‘things being different back then’ and Paul never really got over what could have been. In contrast to the sentimentality of love in the past, we also meet Kat (Alice Barlow), who is young, fresh and unsuccessfully trying to find love via internet dating websites. Barlow’s performance throughout the show is first class with her spectacular voice (which leads many of the show’s songs) and her brilliant acting skills which give an amusing and comedic performance of the kooky Kat. The third hapless lover is Alison (Michelle Gayle), who has sadly lost her husband but is now finding herself dangerously drawn to an eighteen-year old student. On arrival, finding out that The Preacher Man has passed away, the three characters decide to pursue his son, Simon (Nigel Richards), in hope that he will help them by giving the advice that they desperately seek.
Since the death of his father, Simon has sold the shop, above which he still lives, and it is now a café that he manages along with the Cappuccino Sisters (Michelle Long, Kate Hardisty and Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong), waitresses who send up the other characters brilliantly but with much affection and with a great energy of the 1960s. Simon tries to emulate his father and help these lonely, troubled souls but with many misunderstandings and lots of soul searching along way.
The show has a really clever balance of nostalgia for the 1960s coupled with the present day and how ‘dating’ plays out today with the use of modern technology. A stand out element to the show is that several of the multi-talented actors are also among the musicians, playing their instruments on the stage as well as acting and singing their parts. The choreography directed by Craig Revel Horwood is spot on, as it flows from high energy to soft and romantic, which helps to develop the character’s and our understanding of them. All of the cast gave an excellent performance as an actor, singer, and dancer and some, as I have already mentioned, were also highly competent instrumentalists.
In the second half of the show, the energy just keeps growing and the harmonies begin to sound even more up-lifting as the characters, who the audience have begun to fall in love with by this point, begin to find love themselves and finally sort out their issues. By the closing number the whole of the audience were on their feet, dancing, singing and clapping along to sound of the beat of the sensational sixties and celebrating an awesome feel-good performance with the cast and each other. Son of a Preacher Man is a truly joyful experience and one that will have you grooving in the aisles!