Douglas Mayo reviews the latest West End bio-musical The Drifters Girl based around the story of the R & B/Soul vocal group and their manager Faye Treadwell now playing at the Garrick Theatre.
The Drifters Girl
One of the shows I have most been looking forward to when theatres re-opened was this new stage musical telling the story of The Drifters and focusing on the battles of their manager Faye Treadwell. Faye known as The Drifters Girl inherited the group she managed with her husband until his death. At a time when women were not managers of high-profile music groups, Faye broke the rules, changed the game and took on those who would threaten her Drifters.
Beverley Knight plays Faye Treadwell with a force and fire that seemed at times to channel the spirit of Faye herself. Musically, she has some powerful musical moments but they seldom amount to more than fragments. When Beverley lets rip you sell her star power in all its glory, you just wish there were more.
To do that, however, you’d need to take away from four other superstars who together with Beverley create a stunning evening of classics. When you hear Drifters hits performed by Adam J Bernard, Tarinn Calender, Matt Henry, and Tosh Wanogho-Maud you are hearing something special. Together they play all of the Drifters vocalists (and there were many) and innumerable smaller characters that appear in the story along the way including Bruce Forsythe!
These four gents alongside Beverley Knight are credited with the creation of The Drifters Girl as a musical theatre event together with book writer Ed Curtis based on an idea by Faye’s daughter Tina Treadwell. Musically, the evening with orchestrations and musical supervision by Chris Egan is lush. Hit after hit are performed to perfection including Fools Fall In Love, Kissin’ In The Back Row Of The Movies, Saturday Night at the Movies, Save The Last Dance For Me, Stand By Me, Under The Boardwalk, amongst many others, and it would be easy to get carried away on that level alone with the performances of these five exceptional talents.
However, the premise that has these four men playing all of the Drifters in a group that was known to have a revolving door when it came to talent, and the complex nature of the story itself also are where this show has a problem. In reality, Treadwell and her husband owned the name The Drifters, so the performer’s names would change but the group remained in motion. In the show Faye likens it to a baseball team, the team players change by the team name remains. One of the best bio-musicals in my opinion Jersey Boys had one of the best plot premises that I’ve seen, letting four people narrate the story of how four guys hit it big. Here, the individuals come and go so fast that it gets quite confusing very quickly. As someone who wasn’t familiar with the backstory, I ended up with a vague appreciation of the plot whilst thoroughly enjoying the music. One other thing that baffled me was the big medley of hits that grab your attention when the show opens, but the show’s finale seems to end with a whimper instead of what the audience is hoping will be a stupendous encore of those beloved Drifters hits.
The story of The Drifters evolves on a very clever set by Anthony Ward, brilliantly lit by Ben Cracknell with video design by Andrzej Goulding and sound by Tom Marshall. Jonathan Church’s production is constrained by the weaknesses in the book, weaknesses that keep this production from taking flight emotionally. Luckily, musically The Drifters Girl is worth the price of admission alone.