REVIEW: Son of a Preacher Man – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

If you listen closely you can hear the sound of the late, great Dusty Springfield turning in her grave at this travesty of a musical that weaves her greatest hits around a series of utterly banal love stories. Unlike Dusty, who sang “I just don’t know what to do with myself”, this reviewer knows exactly what to do – run to the exit.

A trio of lost souls: Paul (Michael Howe), searching for his first love; Alison (Michelle Gayle) uncomfortably (for the audience) in love with one of her teenage pupils (I kid you not) and Kat (Alice Barlow) who has recently lost her much-loved gran, are all looking for love. All three are drawn to a Soho record store and its legendary oracle of an owner – The Preacher Man. However, the store and its owner are alas, no more. In its place, a coffee shop run by the Preacher Man’s hapless son, Simon (Nigel Richards), complete with a trio of thoroughly annoying singing waitresses, the Cappuccino Sisters.

It is almost impossible to care about any of this hodgepodge of a show. Warner Brown’s plot is barely comprehensible, disjointed, and often utterly tasteless: there are ill-judged jokes about a deceased husband, a mature man pretending to be a young girl to dupe someone online, a scene at a grief counselling group to the tune of I Just Don’t Know What to do With Myself, and the thoroughly uncomfortable scenario where an older woman is in love with a young boy. There’s little humour and what humour there is raises few laughs. The characterisations are leaden and utterly one-dimensional and the choreography by Craig Revel Horwood is in turn sloppy and sleazy, and shambolically executed by the cast who have clearly not been hired for their terpsichorean efforts. The set and some of the costumes fair no better and are panto-esque at best. Horwood’s direction beggars belief, there is little of this production that has been properly thought through. Someone needs to look at the calendar – has no-one realised it’s 2018: women in tiny skirts unnecessarily bumping and grinding against tables and in men’s faces just doesn’t cut it any more, it is everyday sexism at its worst. To add insult to injury it’s played out to Some of Your Lovin’, a pleading anthem of unfulfilled love.

You get the feeling that the cast may be aware how bad this is, the script is trite, but they gamely give it their all. This however transmits into too high energy levels that are out of kilter with the over-riding storyline regarding grief. There are few who can ever scale the vocal heights of the legendary Dusty and here, few manage to even come close. Former Eastenders stalwart Michelle Gayle barely registers, Alice Barlow has a fine voice at full belt but her acting skills need refining and Michael Howe’s high energy levels are a tad over the top (though he has a nice duet also playing guitar on Spooky). Faring best are Nigel Richards, who with the lion’s share of the cheesy lines, still remains likeable throughout and Swing Gary Mitchinson who possessed the best voice of the evening. What is excellent is the band, who are tight, sharp and full-sounding throughout and only three members strong. While not a fan of strolling actor/musicians, the onstage (mostly) brass instruments provide excellent punctuation to the pit band.

Lifeless, tasteless and soulless. It ultimately leaves you “wishing and hoping” you were anywhere else.

This review was written for The Reviews Hub