preacher man cast

Son of a Preacher Man

The New Alexandra Theatre


With a new musical you know little more about than a Press release, it is strange how the smallest things can set the mark - good or bad - for a whole production.

The low-key opening of Preacher Man, with director/choreographer Craig Revel Horwood’s hallmark of an orchestra of actor/musicians on stage, sees the entry of the four leads, with the youngest, Kat, played by Diana Vickers, appearing holding a wreath for Gran.

Then, in a very balletic mime, we see a tear and her sadness in a simple gesture, a tiny detail, probably hardly noticed by many, but one which held the promise that this might not be just yet another jukebox musical, and so it proves.

It is at the Mamma Mia and We will rock you end of the genre rather than the think of as many 60’s hits as you can and slap a few words around them shallow end.

It might not be Shakespeare but Warner Brown’s book does manage a story strong enough to hold interest and attempts to work songs from Dusty Springfield’s extensive back catalogue into the story rather than stopping for a bit to chuck in a hit then carrying on as if nothing had happened.

The story is simple, three generations spanning half a century or more, in search of . . . memories and lost love I suppose; a trio who are all drawn to Dean Street in Soho where in the 60s there was a record shop and coffee bar, The Preacher Man, run by a man who went under the same name.

OK, the name’s unlikely but c’mon you got to get one of Dusty’s biggest hits in somehow – and when you find the place is now run by The Preacher Man’s son . . . enough said. Show title and big closing number all rolled into one! Two birds with one song!

kat and Mike

Kat, played by Diana Vickers lays it out straight for Liam Vincent-Kilbride's kilted Mike

The trio all sport good voices which is the essential element of any musical, and voices that go well together. There is Paul, played by Michael Howe, a gay man who was a 14-year-old in the 60s, and who has never forgotten a Greek god like youth – at least in his eyes - called Jack he fell for in the record shop.  As that puts Paul in his late 60s you have to give it to him, the boy has worn well. As for Jack now . . . we are to meet him later, played by Jon Bonner, just after his wife has died. 

Then there is Alison, played by Debra Stephenson, a widowed teacher, who takes up tutoring on the side and falls for a pupil, Liam, which is a no no writ large in the educational bible. It went no further than hidden feelings but the feelings are still lingering on in there..

And finally we have Kat, the one who has just lost her gran, who fell in love at first byte with some geezer on a dating site, a bloke who rejected her profile, but she still carries a torch, or rather a cursor, for him.

So, like pilgrims to a shrine, one by one, they arrive at the site of the shop carried along by some unseen force to find The Preacher Man, a man who was a sort of 60’s guru, a dab hand at sorting problems, giving advice, making thing right.

Now gone, rest his soul, his son, Simon, played by Ian Reddington, is less guru and more coffee bar manager, but he is persuaded to give problem solving a go, with a plea to the heavens for help from dad.

Sadly, he makes a complete mess of it . . . but does he? Is it just the real Preacher Man moving in mysterious ways? Suddenly everything falls into place, or it will eventually, and we can sing the praises of the Son of a Preacher Man, but only when the journey is complete.

Along the way we meet Liam, the student target of Alison’s affections, played by Lewis Kidd, who also plays guitar, and Mike, the dating site lothario, played by Liam Vincent-Kilbride, who weighs in with the cello, as well as Jon Bonner as Jack, who also doubles up as Madge the cleaner and who plays a mean trumpet.

There is also good support from Michelle Long, (violin) Kate Hardisty (saxes, clarinet and flute),and Cassiopeia Berekely-Agyepog (flute) as the singing Cappuccino Sisters, the coffee bar’s waitresses.

Revel Horwood used an on stage orchester in Chess and Sister Act and uses it to good effect here with 10 actors playing every other part as well as a whole range of instruments, with four musicians, including keyboard and drums, which are hardly mobile, offstage under musical director Brady Mould.

Morgan Large’s setting is dramatic and very flexible with a shop on the corner of Dean Street and Old Compton Street with walls which swing out or close for interiors or street scenes which means scene changes are instant and allow Craig Revel Horwood to keep up a good pace.

His choreography is evident a number of times with scenes that leave the run of the mill far behind, such as when Paul is telling of his youth and sings I close my eyes and count to ten with Lewis Kidd and Liam Vincent Kilbride dancing as the young Paul and Jack with Michael Howe as the current Paul mirroring his younger self.

It is one of 19 Dusty Springfield tracks with songs such as A house is not a home, Spooky, with Michael Howe on guitar, The look of love, I just don’t know what to do with myself, In the middle of nowhere, and her only No 1, You don’t have to say you love me.

With songwriters such as Carole King, David Goffin, Burt Bacharach and Hal David there is a lot of quality music to choose from and Brown has used a good mix of ballads and upbeat numbers to give variety, and he infused the script with both charm and wit with characters you actually started to care about.

The result is a jukebox musical with a bit of heart, a few laughs and a happy ending, with songs which at least try to move the story on - in short, an entertaining and enjoyable evening. To 16-09-17.

Roger Clarke


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