Directed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood, new musical Son of a Preacher Man is a frothy confection that revisits Dusty Springfield’s songs through an amiable if improbable story.
Young widow Alison (Michelle Gayle) is in thrall to an unwise crush on a younger man, Kat (Alice Barlow) has lost the gran who raised her, while Paul (Michael Howe) yearns to reconnect with the man he loved in his youth. They decide the answers to their troubles can be found in the Soho record shop Preacher Man, whose owner used to dole out words of wisdom. But the Preacher Man is dead, the store now a coffee shop run by his hapless son Simon (Nigel Richards), who has none of his father’s gifts.
This somewhat flimsy plot nevertheless delivers some emotional beats, as the characters – played with enormous charm – stumble their way to love, or at least the potential for it. Warner Brown’s book has some smart lines, and it’s nice to see a mainstream musical with a gay love story given prominence and handled with tenderness, with Paul’s crush sensitively played by Jon Bonner. There’s able support from the energetic ensemble (a cocky, kilted Liam Vincent-Kilbride particularly stands out.)
Designer Morgan Large’s set is delightfully gaudy, and the musical numbers are handled with aplomb. But stripped of the soulfulness that made them so affecting, even familiar songs blend into a homogenous mishmash. The cast carry the day through gutsiness and verve, but the show falls short of being memorable.