Son of a Preacher Man, Storyhouse Chester

I've got to be honest, the concept and story of this musical is just not for me. It was too cheesy, too contrived and to me really wasn't a good representation of the music of Dusty Springfield. Putting that aside, though, it's performed by an immensely talented cast who performed every song brilliantly. It's a real tale of two halves, this one: I didn't like the show, but I loved those in it.

In the sixties, a record store called The Preacher Man was the place to be, and its owner was also known for his great life advice. Years later, three people - all connected to The Preacher Man in their own way - head to London to see if it's still there. Each hopes to find a solution to the dilemmas they're facing in their lives.

Let's get my main problem out of the way first, then I can write about the great aspects of the show. As might be clear from that little intro, this story is a cheesy one. It's about love, there's lots of laughs and the concept is fairly heartwarming, but if really is one of the most ridiculous storylines for a musical I've seen in a long time. It's a jukebox musical like Mamma Mia, but there's a show where it works a little better as Abba was all about flamboyance and cheese and performance, along with their catchy music.

To me, cheese is not a word I would associate with Dusty Springfield. She's so full of depth, her voice is so powerful and many of her songs are so moving that trying to fit them into a story like this was just a bit bizarre and, to me, not a good celebration of the woman she was and is remembered as. It felt like some of the songs were turned into a bit of a joke, which I just didn't find that entertaining.

If you want a cheesy afternoon out, then great, but if you want a great story, this might not be the show for you. Directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, it felt like he was trying to pack too many ideas and concepts into one show and at times made me cringe slightly.

However, as I mentioned at the beginning, the cast of this show is something special. I was blown away by the musical talent and the vocals were spot on from ensemble and principle roles alike. Songs like 'I just don't know what to do with myself', at the support group, and more of the songs in the second act really gave them a chance to show off their harmonies and the encore style section at the end sounded fantastic.

The fact many were playing instruments whilst wandering and dancing round the stage just added yet another layer of excellence to the musical performances. If I had to single out any ensemble member it would be Jess Barker, for her singing in particular.

Michael Howe played a polished Paul, a very likeable character who, although he overindulged in the cheese slightly at times, had a really wonderful voice.  Lewis Kidd delivered a confident performance as Liam, managing that careful balance between making him a teenager but not overacting the 'young' stereotype. Nigel Richards' vocals (Simon) were absolutely beautiful, and I did find myself wishing he had much more to sing.

Michelle Gayle did a lovely job as Alison, sharing some intimate, caring moments with multiple other characters. You'd find it very difficult not to warm to her and her singing was very polished, with nice harmonies throughout.

Alice Barlow stole the show, for me, as Kat. Like Kidd, she struck a good balance of being young but not in a way that was too over the top or cheesy and as cliche as it sounds I really enjoyed the way she played Kat's 'journey'. She had a few moments (think waitress outfits and punch ups...) which should have been some of the ones that made me cringe the most if the rest of the show was anything to go by, but she pulled them off in a way that just had you rooting for her throughout. Her vocal performance was spot on and she really got to show that off in her final rendition of Son of a Preacher Man, which was very impressive.

I really enjoyed the fact that the encore and bows section at the end was long, as it gave audiences a chance to appreciate every single cast member, each of whom had their own bow. When the talent level is so high, it's nice to be able to appreciate more than only the main roles.

So really it was quite an interesting afternoon! The show itself and the story could not have been further away from what I enjoy, but the talent of the performers was so impressive that I was able to just sit back and enjoy each song as if that's all I was there to see, rather than a complete musical.

Sophie x


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