Preaching to the converted

Son of a Preacher Man at Manchester’s Palace Theatre

I am at the theatre frequently nowadays. Sometimes I am disappointed. From time to time, I am totally enthralled. And then occasionally I make my way to my velvet seat tentatively, with no great expectations, and I am bowled over.

And so it was this week when I trotted along to the Palace Theatre in the pouring rain to see a show dedicated to a name very much from the past – Dusty Springfield. No great fan of hers during her lifetime, my eulogies were bound to be sparse. I vaguely remember her blondness, her gruff sounding guttural voice, but not much else.

And yet I was truly and pleasantly shocked by the quality, the vigour and the jollity on stage, presented in a really ingenious and intriguing way.

I have realised some time ago that theatre can visually recreate the past and we, of a certain age group, reminisce about those supposedly ‘good old days’. Here the scene is Soho, three unconnected people finding themselves in a spot where one such club once proudly stood and where Lulu and Cilla and others belted out their songs, and this triumvirate talk of love. Young love. Cyber love. Gay Love. But Love. It can only be a happy ending.

It is an intricate, yet simple tale, well told, trite but sweet and pieced together with some incredibly memorable melodies from Dusty’s Days. Songs such as the eponymous Son of a Preacher Man and haunting melodies like How can I be sure?, You don’t have to say you love me and many more. Suddenly they all came flooding back. Memories of my youth.

The dialogue is undemanding and smart and the choreography, as you would expect from director Craig Revel Harwood, is better than exceptional. It is really, really slick. I adored the backing singers, known here as the Cappuccino Sisters, who looked cheeky and sounded fully in command. One of them – Miss Agyepong - was almost winking at you with her effervescent smirk. A hit if ever there was one.

Another impressive angle to this quite adorable production is that everyone appears to double up. They sing and then they dance, and next they play an instrument or even two. The clear impression is that on stage this very night, there are some extremely talented people.

Among this troupe, who are on a tour that finishes in Liverpool next July, are some first rate performers. At the forefront are the triumvirate – Diana Vickers (an X Factor semi-finalist), Debra Stephenson (Impressionist and former Coronation Street resident), and Michael Howe.

The actual son of the Preacher Man was played by Ian Reddington (who must have flown over from Benidorm!) They occupy the stage for most of the show and all sing, dance and talk their talk with real conviction. They are likeable, endearing, convincing and quite genteel.

The staging is excellent, and the music both evocative and foot stomping in equal measure. Profound it isn’t, but entertaining it certainly is.

It’s on a long and protracted tour across the country and I can only hope that by the time they reach Liverpool next July, they exhibit half as much enthusiasm and exuberance as they did at the Palace for me. This is fit for any West End Stage and should be playing there soon. I have seen many shows dedicated to former pop idols but, save for Mamma Mia, none come even close to this. Definitely worth getting the brolly out for. A Five Star Production.


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