Son Of A Preacher Man At The New Alex Theatre

The wondrous, timeless music of Dusty Springfield filled the New Alex Theatre last night with the opening of the crowd pleasing musical ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, a jukebox musical telling a story of unrequited love using the classic hits of the great lady. And while ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ is no classic, it’s talented cast and those wonderful songs make it a good solid night of entertainment.

The story revolves around three lonely people who are all suffering from loss and have been unlucky in love. Paul (Michael Howe) is still yearning for Jack, a man he met at the Preacher Man record shop in the 1960s, but never revealed his feelings to. Alison (Debra Stephenson) is a lonely widow who has developed feelings for a barely legal schoolboy she has been tutoring (the most uncomfortable storyline to be honest), whilst Kat (Diana Vickers) has just lost her gran and is yearning for a gorgeous hunk(Liam Vincent-Kilbride) who rejected her profile on Match.com. These three people all descend on the old Preacher Man record store on Dean Street, Soho, in the hope of finding some answers from the legendary owner. Instead they find his son (hence the title) Simon, played by Ian Reddington, who has none of the charisma of his father, with the record shop now turned into a coffee bar. But maybe Simon, with the help of the trusty(and rather fabulous Cappuccino Sisters) can help these lonely, lost people find true love somehow.

The cast is excellent, with Diana Vickers showing just why she should’ve won X Factor with ease. She adds her own spin on the Dusty songs, and with the exception of the thrusting and gyrating of ‘Stay Awhile’ each number is a success. Ian Reddington underplays his role to give a natural, lovely performance as Simon, a man lost in the shadows of his father. Debra Stephenson tackles what could be a difficult, uneasy role so well, making Alison come across as sweet and lonely rather than predatory, whilst it would be hard not to love Michael Howe as still hopeful Paul, he plays the role with such charm and enthusiasm. And I loved the Cappuccino sisters, great singers and performers who added a touch of early 1960s era humour to the show.

 

But it has to be said that the story is paper thin, with the ending where everyone suddenly finds love at exactly the same time feeling rather rushed, and maybe just a little too twee for what is, after all, adult entertainment. And, I still need to understand why the bereavement counselor was dancing like a chicken and dressed in what looked like bondage gear…yes that was a strange moment.

So when it comes to Son of a Preacher Man, I liked it, but didn’t love it. But if you love the music of Dusty Springfield this could be the one for you.

 

Son of a Preacher Man

New Alex Theatre 14-16th September

Click here for ticket information.

Dirty Dancing At The New Alex Theatre

Top five chick flicks of all time? If you ask anyone who was a teenager in 1987 they will surely have Dirty Dancing as their number one choice. The coming of age story of Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, an idealistic young woman who finds her beliefs and hopes tested when she takes a Summer holiday at Kellermans family resort. However she also meets the enigmatic, sexy Johnny Castle when she has to cover for his pregnant dancing partner Penny. They fall in love, but Johnny is certainly from the wrong side of the tracks and is not going to be the choice of her doctor father. Dirty Dancing is one of those feelgood films where you know everything will be sorted by the final scene, but it is none the worse for it.

The stage musical version of this iconic film arrived at the New Alex Theatre in Birmingham last night, whisking the audience off to the Summer of 1963, just before Beatlemania took over the world and it changed forever. The stage show is just as melodic and hypnotic as the film, and with all those famous lines in place (I carried a watermelon, nobody puts Baby in a corner) it is as fun, frothy and quotable as ever.

Dirty Dancing is all about those leads, and Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey are hard shoes to fill, but in Katie Eccles and Robert Colvin, who was stepping in for Lewis Griffiths we have the perfect Baby and Johnny. Katie is great as the idealistic Baby, particularly in those early dancing scenes where her unease and awkwardness make her efforts both poignant and funny. Her later skills show Katie to be a great dancer, particularly during that final scene. Robert is brilliant as Johnny, his playing of the mean and moody dancer is both virile and brooding and his physicality is perfect for the role. It doesn’t hurt matters that he is gorgeous, and with the walk and the physical strength he compares very favourably to Patrick Swayze in the role. He also, in the final scenes, looks like he is really enjoying himself in the role, and this is just infectious.

Penny is played by the outstanding Carlie Miller, her dancing impeccable and her elegance, illustrated best by her amazing legs, with which she performs a range of kicks and moves without breaking a sweat. The hilarious Lizzie Ottley brings the silly, vacuous Lisa Houseman to life with a passion, especially when performing her show tune in the most tuneless of ways, providing one of the comedy highlights of the night. Comedic value is also added by Greg Fossard as the annoying Neil Kellerman, a nerd with a nice range of chat up lines, whilst Sophia Mackay and Michael Kent, as Elizabeth and Billy provide the musical highlights.

The staging is uniformly excellent, with the revolving scenery providing brilliant backdrops that really take you to the Catskills. And, of course, those musical classics from the likes of Otis Reading and Solomon Burke still have the power to soar. Dirty Dancing is entertaining from start to finish, if you love the classic film, you will love this faithful adaptation.

Dirty Dancing

New Alex Theatre

Wed 31 May – Sat 03 June

Click here for ticket information

A Judgement in Stone at Birmingham’s New Alex Theatre

April 1978. Two detectives are investigating a particular gruesome occurence at Lowfield Hall. The Coverdale family have been murdered in their own home, shot at point blank range in an execution style killing. The only real witness to what happened is Eunice Parchman, a strange, shy, subservient women who was the live in housekeeper, although she had been relieved of her post and was all set to leave the family home the when the murders occured. Detectives Vetch and Challoner are stumped as to who could’ve committed the murders, but little by little the whole horrifying tale begins to unravel, revealing a seemingly minor secret that might be the key to the everything that happened.

A Judgement in Stone is based on a Ruth Rendell story from 1977.  As a play it retains a claustrophobic atmosphere, and is the story is told in episodic flashbacks that are cleverly handled with stage exits Рthe detectives and Miss Parchman exit from the present, as the Coverdale family enter from the not too distant past. This works so well and keeps the action moving on to reveal the story.

The ensemble cast are all excellent. Sophie Ward, unrecognisable as the beautiful television star of the 1980s, is exceptional as Eunice Parchman, capturing her reserved nature and quiet stillness beautifully. When she says she was sacked for insolence you really find this hard to believe, and so you are drawn into her story.

Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon are also very good as the detectives, with Lancel’s Vetch all efficiency and briskness, contrasting perfectly with Nealon’s Challoner, who exudes warmth and friendly charm. Blue’s Anthony Costa also impresses, with a mixture of roguishness, masculinity and strength. His exchanges with cleaner Eva Baalham (Shirley Anne Field) are sweet and funny, but they are also a contrast with his more highly charged scenes with the detectives, where he throws a chair and shows a more dangerous side to his character.

The Coverdale family are also portrayed well. George Coverdale, played by 60s music star Mark Wynter also has an easy charm, but shows himself to be a priggish and unmovable  in some of his scenes with Miss Parchman. His younger second wife Jacqueline (Rosie Thomson) seems happy and relaxed, but her scenes with stepdaughter Miranda(Jennifer Sims) are filled with uneasy tension that both ladies portray well. Son Giles, portrayed by Joshua Price is also good Рa perfect portrait of a teenager trying to find himself through meditation and religion, also secretly in love with his stepsister.

But the stand out performance is from Deborah Grant, as the local postmistress and religious zealot Joan Smith. Her performance, as she quotes fire and brimstone and promises eternal damnation for the Coverdale family, is extraordinary. At times horrifying and violent, she is also at the heart of one of the funniest scenes in the whole play, as Eunice and Joan turn happy clappy singing their religious songs as the bang on a sweet tin. This has to be seen to be believed.

As a study in how the smallest of things can lead to the most horrific of consequences, A Judgement in Stone is a thought provoking piece with excellent performances.

A Judgement in Stone, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham

21st – 25th February.

Click here for ticket information.