With the West End open again (thank goodness) and many a theatre fan more than ready to return to auditoriums, jukebox musicals are proving to be as popular as ever and if you fancy going to see a show full of songs that you know then London has plenty to offer. Mamma Mia is still going strong having just celebrated its 23rd birthday, with Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and &Juliet also pulling in the crowds. And now another joins the West End jukebox line up, lighting up the Garrick Theatre with soul and comedy, Ed Curtis’ The Drifter’s Girl.
Starring much loved leading lady and soul superstar Beverley Knight as Faye Treadwell, The Drifter’s Girl tells the remarkable true story of The Drifters, one of the best vocal groups in history and the tale of the amazing women who managed them for over 30 years. It tracks the highs and lows, the changes to the band’s line up due to a number of consequences including fall outs and call ups, sell out tours, hit records and a legal battle that turned out to be Faye’s toughest battle yet, all told from the viewpoint of Faye herself.
Featuring some of the most iconic soul songs known to man, including Save The Last Dance For Me, Kissin’ In The Back Row Of The Movies, Stand By Me and You’re More Than A Number In My Little Red Book, this new musical is packed to the rafters with hits performed by a talented cast.
Having booked to see this performance on a busy Saturday afternoon through TodayTix’s rush system, we knew very little about it, and if we are being honest, the most surprising fact about this production did not click until the show started. The entire story of Faye and her drifters are told by just six cast members, including a young star as Faye’s daughter, with Adam J Bernard, Tarinn Callender, Matt Henry and Tosh Wanogho-Maud playing multiple parts throughout, from various members of The Drifters over the years to managers, fans and those they meet along the way.
Inspired by an idea of Faye Treadwell’s daughter Tina, ‘The Drifter’s Girl’ is an exploration of the band’s troublesome history, the revolving door of talent that bounced in and out of the vocal group and the difficulties that Faye had to face in order to keep the band in her name. Knight, having previously starred in hit productions such as Memphis and The Bodyguard, cements herself as one of the best when it comes to vocal performance with her renditions of ‘Stand by Me’ and ‘Harlem Child’, and her chemistry with young star Amari Brown in the role of her daughter was touching and believable as she tells the story of the band. Brown appears on stage for the majority of the show, not only watching the story unfold but helping to tell it by becoming an emotional core, the reason for Faye to keep going no matter what.
Bernard, Callender, Henry and Wanogho-Maud make it look incredibly to bounce from character to character, earning many a laugh as they play not only the Drifters performers but also bar staff, hotel workers, tab drivers, a pair of hilarious English managers both called Roger and even Bruce Forsyth. Vocally, this group by just be among the best of the best that you can currently hear in the lights of London, sounding absolutely beautiful together and making some of the world’s greatest classic soul songs completely and utterly their own.
Whilst it is incredible clever and wonderful to see such a small cast being able to bring a story that features so many different characters to life in such a way, for someone who is perhaps unfamiliar with the story of The Drifters, it can become a little bit of a blur as band members come and go so quickly. Names flash up on the backdrop of the set, one and another as people came in and perform for a short time before their character is either drafted into the US Army or removed from the group due to internal conflict. I guess it could be suggested that this is intentional, a creative choice to show just how quickly and easily things were changed in the band’s line up, but nevertheless, a little bit less haste may have been it just that little bit cleaner in its storytelling.
Anthony Ward’s set works well, featuring just a few sliding walls and a backdrop on which locations and names are projected and when paired with ben Cracknell’s clever lighting design of a number of moving beams of light that allow characters to move in and out of the shadows as they move in and out of the band, it’s very effective. Fay Fullerton’s costume design glows with the glamour of the age of soul, smart suits and neat hats creating the atmosphere well.
As we attended this Saturday afternoon performance over the busy Easter weekend, I feel compelled to apologise to the hardworking cast on the behalf of the audience as I have never seen so many people get up, leave the auditorium, and return during the first act and I’m really not sure what was going on. There were definitely a few audience members who had clearly had a little bit too much to drink, and whilst more did stay seated in the second act, many stood and started singing along way before the finale.
Overall, ‘The Drifter’s Girl’ is a showcase of what can be done with a smaller cast and a true example of the talent of this cast. Vocally impressive throughout and true masters in the art of quick change between characters. The songs are guaranteed to stir memories, I was surprised to see how many of them I actually knew, and the all singing all dancing finale gets everyone up on their feet.
Images found via Google, not my own