Son of a Preacher Man
Put another dime in the jukebox, baby! This famous Joan Jett lyric is very apt, as Manchester has two new musicals, both of which plunder a back catalogue, in search of hooks and dramatic content. At the Opera House, it's Take That and here it's Dusty.
For a good jukebox musical to work, it needs a good set of songs, but it also needs a sturdy book. Otherwise, it all feels like an excuse to stop boring us, and get to the chorus.
Warner Brown has managed to contruct a story which is incomprehensible, flabby and strangely lacking any emotion. I say strangely, because, as you have guessed from the show's title, the music is Dusty Springfield's greatest hits.
The narrative is so slim that it revolves around three disparate characters; Kat (Diana Vickers), Alison (Debra Stevenson), and Paul (Michael Howe) who are in search of advice and meaning to their lives. They look for a preacher man, but guess what? They find his son! And so it plods on, navel gazing, ridculous sub plots, and cardboard caricatures, all designed to be sellotaped to a song.
Diana Vickers is way too good for this, whenever she sings, there is a vulnerability that comes across which is not on the page, and she is brilliant. Stephenson drowns, but it's barely her fault, her role as a former teacher who has lusted after a pupil is laughable. She does what she can with such risible material.
Craig Revel Horwood directs and his usual flair is missing. His penchant for musicans/ performer is evident again and it distracts. But, it's the way the songs are used that jars. "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" features characters singing to a chair!
Add a Michael Walliams style cleaner and a tortured middle aged man who resembles David from Cold Feet, and you end up with a musical in desperate need of a story.
For the poor audience, there is nowhere to run and judging by some of the walkouts at half time, many of them were thinking What Have I Done To Deserve This.
Jonathan Harvey has penned Dusty, a biographical musical about Miss Springfield. On paper, this looks like the one to watch out for. My advice is wait for this one.
Glenn Meads for Canal St Online
Son Of A Preacher Man is at the Palace Theatre until 30 September.