Likely trying to emulate the success of shows like Mamma Mia, Strictly Come Dancing’s resident judge Craig Revel Horwood tours his new Jukebox Musical, stopping in The Alhambra where LEO OWEN caught the show

Paul (Michael Howe), Alison (Michelle Gayle) and Kat (Alice Barlow), three heartbroken Dusty Springfield fans from different generations, remember a record shop called “Preacher Man” with intertwining monologues. As they reminisce, the timeline flashbacks to the sixties and shop customers sing “I only want to be with you”. Morgan Large’s apartment corner block set opens up to a montage of popular Dusty songs like “Nowhere to Run” that customers listen to on headsets singing along.

Off to a promising start, Warner Brown’s new show takes a dive from here as its exceedingly flimsy plot develops. In interview, Brown claims his “very real story” came first and Dusty songs were apparently dropped in afterwards as appropriately. Watching the show, this is extremely difficult to believe as its premise seems contrived solely to justify yet another money-making “Jukebox Musical”, reeling in unsuspecting fans of Dusty and her era.

The show’s three troubled protagonists hope the record shop is still there and travel from far flung destinations to London’s Dean Street, hoping the past will teach them how to live in the present and future. One visited Preacher Man as a child and the other two have respectively lived the scene vicariously through their mum and grandma’s stories. Using Dusty’s music as a medium, each in turn has their sad love story flashback. It is the mission of the Preacher Man’s son, Simon (Nigel Richards), to prove that each crush isn’t worthy of heartache. He’s helped by strange spiritual visits from his father, guiding him from the grave.

As a performer Dusty idolised black Motown artists and was so iconic, she was one of a small number of female artists referred to by first name alone. Recording and releasing songs by big name writers like Burt Bacharach and Carole King, Dusty later partnered with the Pet Shop Boys in the 1980s, reaffirming her enduring appeal. With this in mind, you might expect a musically strong show, regardless of its weak story. Unfortunately, the show’s technical producers succumb to a common error made in musical theatre, failing to perfect volume levels for vocalists with musical accompaniment often drowning lyrics out.

The show’s first act includes some underwhelming performances but warms as time progresses with a powerful rendition of “I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten”. The music shop duet of “Spooky” works well and whole ensemble numbers are particularly effective, including “A House is Not a Home”, “I Just Don’t Know What to do With Myself”, “How Can I be Sure?” and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”.

Musicians perform live on stage and there’s a house café band called the Cappuccinos (Michelle Long, Kate Hardisty and Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong), perhaps reflecting changes in English culture, alongside the decline of fig roll appreciation (a bizarre but endearing common reoccurring theme).

Craig Revel Horwood directs with a particularly effective bereavement counselling group sequence, overly exaggerated choreography for “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and comical choreography for female weight-lifting cast. “Some of your Lovin” is an especially enjoyable number as, dressed as a saucy waitress, Kat attempts to entrap her infatuation. It is clear that while Gayle may be the show’s recognisable celebrity draw, relative newcomer Barlow is clearly the strongest all-round performer, belting out the title track.

Fluffy with cast adopting an overly exaggerated pantomime acting style, the show is thankfully not wholly predictable (despite the inclusion of a closing medley) `with disastrous outcomes for central characters at the close of the first act. Son of a Preacher Man primarily targets music aficionados and those of the era while exploring different kinds of love. Despite its extremely tenuous character threads and preposterous plot, it ends relatively neatly with ridiculously awkward conversations and a fuzzy feel good conclusion. A musical mess with enough highs to make an unnecessary show enjoyable regardless.

Son of a Preacher Man showed at The Alhambra June 12-16 before continuing its UK tour: