Son of a Preacher Man
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Square, Dublin 2.
Until 26th May at 7.30pm nightly, with matinees 2.30pm on May 23rd and 26th
Tickets from €21
Juke box musicals are not a new sensation, but since the massive success of Mama Mia, everybody and anybody who has ever had a hit seems to be churning out pieces based on their back catalogue.
The Tina Turner musical launched recently in the UK, as did this offering, which in case you hadn’t guessed is based on the music of Dusty Springfield. Like many of you reading this, Dusty was before my time, but I am aware of her music and legacy.
It is her songs that pepper this story of three people suffering unrequited love, looking for help from the son of a preacher man of the title (also one of her hits).
Except he’s not actually a preacher man, he is the son of a guy who owned a record shop in the 60s called The Preacher Man. Yes, it’s a bit convoluted, but in truth so are most of the plots written around an existing back catalogue of music.
And to be fair, it starts out as a sweet enough story, but takes a dark turn when Alison, played by Michelle Gayle (formally of EastEnders fame) confesses that her love is actually her teenage pupil (although apparently he is old enough so that’s OK!).
While many musicals have dealt with dark romances, and even Romeo and Juliet were in their teens, given the tone that they appear to be going for here, this feels extremely uncomfortable, and out of context with everything else going on. In fact, it will be more at home in Michelle’s former stomping ground of Walford. Indeed, they actually did have a story about an older teacher seducing one of her pupils quite recently.
It makes it very hard to like the character, even when she redeems herself, and it is a real pity, because the other two stories – a man still nursing unrequited love for a guy he met in the record shop 40 years ago, and a girl in love with the image of someone she saw online but has never met – have some lovely moments.
There are a lot of plotholes and issues with the book here, many scenarios feel shoehorned in to make the songs work, and as a result it is very disjointed. It is peppered with jokes that don’t always land, and doesn’t really seem to know what it is trying to be.
Nigel Richards is fantastic as the titular ‘son of’, managing to bring humour and pathos to the role, and a trio known as the Cappuccino Sisters are an absolute joy, and hold much of the show together with their segues between scenes or background presence.
Think of the most bonkers Eurovision entry you’ve ever seen, and then multiply it by 10, and you get the picture. If they weren’t fictional characters for the play, I could totally see them on Britain’s Got Talent – they all have amazing voices!
And, of course, there is the music. Personally, I didn’t realise how many hits Dusty actually had. Every song is a classic, and the arrangements are fabulous. Many of the actors also play live instruments on stage, which is a lovely touch, and the vocal harmonies are wonderful.
In terms of choreography, some of the 60s scenes veer the wrong side of cheesy, but it is redeemed by some magnificent set-pieces in other scenes. Especially lovely is a scene where a character ‘remembers’ his younger self falling for someone, and their story is told through dance.
Unfortunately, this can’t detract from the fact that there are real issues with the story here. It feels very random, and just doesn’t work. I would have preferred to see Dusty’s songs simply-staged and performed beautifully, than have to navigate through this mish-mash of a tale to get to them. Even many die-hard Dusty fans there the night I attended admitted to being disappointed.
This has a great cast, and (obviously) wonderful songs, but that’s not really enough to save it. I was wishing and hoping for a lot more than it delivered.
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