Churchill Theatre, Bromley – until 9 September 2017
“Saying so much more than / Just words could ever say”
No-one could accuse Craig Revel-Horwood of resting on his laurels. He’s about to reprise his Miss Hannigan, stepping into Miranda Hart‘s sensible shoes, in the West End revival of Annie; the new series of Strictly Come Dancing is looming just around the corner; and in between all that, he’s found the time to direct and choreograph a new Dusty Springfield jukebox musical that is scheduled to tour the country through to July 2018.
There’s a slight sense though that he might have overstretched himself with Son of a Preacher Man as I found its opening engagement at the Churchill Bromley really rather underwhelming. From Warner Brown’s insubstantial and weirdly paced book with its eye-openingly poor dialogue, to the incomprehensible decision to expose one of the weaker dancers front and centre at the very start, much of the decision-making feels questionable at best.
I love a good actor-musician production but here, the integration of musicianship and drama just hasn’t been thought-through, even down to instruments getting in the way of scenes – it feels a token gesture. Similarly, the incorporation of the many classic Dusty songs is cursorily done, shoehorned into the tales of woe of three random strangers in search of an agony aunt of a record shop (I tell no lies…). There’s none of the craft and wit that Mamma Mia (still) epitomises in the jukebox form.
Some of the performances go a long way to papering over the cracks though. Diana Vickers is developing into a beautifully natural stage presence, especially against her love interest here Liam Vincent-Kilbride, and she delivers some cracking vocals as Kat, especially on the rousing finale of the title track, and Ian Reddington is charismatic as Simon, underused but still memorable.
The trio of the Cappuccino Sisters – Michelle Long, Kate Hardisty and Cassiopeia Berkely-Agyepong – are another highlight with their every appearance but are symptomatic of the show at large, in that they’re not really essential to the show, a good idea not particularly well-translated by the creatives. As the tour progresses, perchance some of these issues will be addressed but I felt there was something more fundamentally flawed here which will require much greater structural changes. As it stands, I think Billy Ray would disown this one.