The Drifters formed in 1953 and the band is still going strong, with another UK tour this year. How do they do it? Well, the Drifters’ Girl, whose story is told in this new musical, holds the key.
The Drifters’ Girl refers to the late, Faye Treadwell who managed the group, first with her husband George, and single-handedly after she was widowed in 1967 until her death in 2011.
In many ways Faye, far from being a groupie Drifters’ girl, as she was often assumed to be, was the mastermind and grit behind the band’s longevity. This musical is both her story and the story of the band – neither of which could be told without the other.
The show opens in the crowd-pleasing way it means to go on, with individual voices of the cast each taking the spotlight before the band comes together for a Drifters’ medley of hits. It’s the kind of scene you might expect to see at the end of a show, but it throws the audience straight into the reason they’ve come here. Actors Miles Anthony Daley, Ashford Campbell, Tarik Frimpong and X-Factor winner Dalton Harris, all have sensational voices – we could be watching the next generation of The Drifters.
Faye narrates the story through conversations with her daughter, Tina (Jaydah Bell-Ricketts) who now manages the band. There are numerous recollections of concerts and studio sessions, giving plenty of opportunity to pack in tracks from the band’s extensive back-catalogue including Dance with Me, Under the Boardwalk and Saturday Night at the Movies. The staging is as slick as the band’s suits – with bright-lights and projections giving glamour and momentum to this fast-moving piece.
It is a demanding night for the cast all-round, with the male actors taking on numerous roles, reflecting the many characters Faye comes up against as well as the changing line-up of the band.
Faye likens her band’s revolving door of some 60 vocalists to the New York Yankees – players may come and go, but there is only one New York Yankees, so it is with her unique concept of The Drifters.
At the interval some audience members said they found the constant role changing confusing. If you try to keep all the names in your head, it will be. But if you focus on Faye and the music – what the show is ultimately about – this hopefully won’t be a problem.
On Wednesday we saw Loren Anderson in the lead role, covering for Cary Mercedes Dyer. Anderson gave her all in an energetic and powerful-voiced performance that sees Faye steam her way through racism, sexism, legal fights, personal sacrifice, and tragedy.
Life on the road certainly wasn’t as smooth as the band’s on-stage moves, and the musical touches on some hard-hitting issues. The short, fast-moving scenes give little time for emotional involvement; that essentially is left to the music. But this jukebox musical is still more than a collection of hits. It is a lesser-known story of one strong woman behind some timeless and well-known tunes that the audience can’t wait to get up and dance to. In this, the finale doesn’t disappoint.