Review – Son of a Preacher Man – Tunbridge Wells

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Jukebox musicals are big business these days. Hardly surprising when looking at the success of shows like Mamma Mia and Jersey Boys but, for every hit jukebox musical, there are plenty that have come and gone, like Tonight’s the Night and the dreadful, Viva Forever. The difference between success and failure is that just parading the songs is not good enough, a tribute band would do a better job. While the songs are important, a believable story is needed to hold them together and that is where Son of a Preacher Man falls down rather spectacularly.

The show tells the story of three people who coincidentally all travel to the site of an old record store in London, at exactly the same time, that was owned by a man known as The Preacher Man. The three strangers each share a connection to the record shop of the 60s and are shocked to discover that the store is now a coffee shop run by Simon, played by Ian Reddington, the (yes, you’ve guessed it) son of The Preacher Man.

The three travellers soon realise that although they are strangers to each other, they have one thing in common: their love lives are a mess. Recently widowed Alison is a teacher who is hopelessly in love with one of her A-level students, Paul never got the future he longed for with a man he met at the record store every Saturday and Kat is convinced that the love of her life is a man who rejected her on a dating site. For some, only remotely plausible, reason Simon feels it is his duty to help these three hopeless cases to get their love lives back on track.

The talented cast of Actor / Singer/ Musicians deserve so much more from a script that is, at times, just appalling. The jokes sometimes fall flat, and many scenes feel disjointed and haphazard, often relying on cheap laughs, mostly gleaned from a cleaner called Madge, played (for some reason) by Jon Bonner in drag.

Michael Howe is very enthusiastic as Paul, although we learn very little about his back story except that he had a crush on Jack (also played by Bonner), who has just lost his wife after a forty year loveless marriage. Debra Stephenson plays Alison, the teacher in love with her student Liam (Lewis Kidd). His use of Mrs Hooper, when speaking to her, really emphasising the totally inappropriate nature of the relationship.

Diana Vickers steals the show as Kat, the young woman who takes rejection on a dating website very badly. Her voice is clear, powerful and, of all the cast, best suited to Dusty’s music.

There are some other bright spots in the show like the ever present Cappuccino Sisters (played by Michelle Long, Kate Hardisty and Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong) who show off some soulful backing vocals and three truly fabulous costumes. Special mention should also go to Lewis Kidd and Liam Vincent-Kilbride in their secondary roles as the Young Jack and Young Paul. Their contemporary dance routine is a shining light in Craig Revel Horwood’s, surprisingly lacklustre, choreography.

The show does have a feel good factor to it and, with the twists and turns that are crammed into the last ten minutes, does have a more plausible ending, but any success that it has will simply be because it features some of Springfield’s most popular songs including A House is Not a Home, I Only Want To Be With You, Nowhere To Run, How Can I Be Sure, The Look Of Love, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, Spooky and, of course, the title track.

Son Of A Preacher Man makes for a pleasant enough evening out but, unlike Dusty’s music, I am not convinced that it, will stand the test of time.

***              Three Stars

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About Author

I have lived in Sussex for the past 15 years and have links with many of the arts venues throughout the county. I am passionate about the local arts scene and, as well as providing reviews of local performances, I also preview some of the exciting shows and events taking place around the county. I have devoted all of my working life to the worlds of theatre and travel so, when I am not on holiday somewhere, you can usually find me at one of our superb local theatres, or simply enjoying life with my young son.

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