Son of a Preacher Man (UK Tour), Grand Opera House, Belfast | Review

Son of a Preacher Man (UK Tour)
Grand Opera House, Belfast
Reviewed on Tuesday 21st November 2017 by Damien Murray

With its combination of an all-star line-up of principals and the timeless music made famous by the late Dusty Springfield, this show looked and sounded promising as a good night out at the theatre and expectations were high.

However, incorrectly referred to by many as ‘the Dusty Springfield musical’ (totally not the fault of the producers), this show is neither the Dusty Springfield story nor a bio-musical about her, but rather a style of juke-box musical that features her many hits held together by an unnatural and most ridiculous of storylines.

The complex and convoluted plot revolves around a cross-generational trio of individuals with relationship issues, who, by coincidence, arrive at the same time at a Soho coffee shop (formerly The Preacher Man record shop) in search of an answer to their respective lonely heart problems.

The legendary record-shop owner, the long-dead Preacher Man, had been a sort of agony uncle with an ear and a solution for those with relationship problems back in the 60s and the coffee shop is now under the control of his less-confident son, Simon, played with great experience by Ian Reddington.

Representing the older generation, Michael Howe played Paul, the first of the three troubled individuals, with assurance, while Debra Stephenson’s middle-aged widowed teacher, Alison, was good, but the awkward script didn’t allow her the same opportunity to develop her character to the same extent as the others.

However, the undoubted star of this show was young Diana Vickers, as Kat from the mobile phone generation, who brought a nice balance of humour and great vocals to the show.

Indeed, due to her young age, Vickers was probably the least familiar with the music of Dusty, which makes it even more surprising that she was the one who did the greatest justice to her songs in this show.

The set’s authentic and realistic-looking Soho coffee shop, complete with scene identifying neon signs, was impressive and was, generally, well-used by the talented cast of multi-instrumentalists in the form of on-stage actor musicians, aided by other hidden musicians.

Musically, this was good, but the combination of dodgy vocals from some performers and a few new song arrangements may have disappointed die-hard Springfield fans. 

However, it was the efforts of the majority of the cast and those great songs that saved this show, especially the already mentioned vocals of Vickers and the stand-out harmonies of the three Cappuccino Sisters, played by Michelle Long, Kate Hardisty and Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong.

However, despite its attractive lighting plot, good cast of principals and creative team, this production was sadly let down by its overall slow pace, its weak narrative and Craig Revel Horwood’s unsubtle choreography.

I am led to believe that on-going changes are being made to improve on its weak points … we can only hope that such improvements are in place long before the end of the scheduled tour.

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