When the musical The Drifters Girl arrived in the West End, many critics and audience members loved Beverley Knight’s performance and vocal ability so much, that they forgave the fact that the plot is fairly sparse.
The actual true story behind the hit band The Drifters is a really interesting one. It’s true that behind every great man is a great woman. Faye Treadwell was an African-American woman, working in music management and she led this band to chart domination. This is quite something and you feel there is more that we do not know, or at least it is not covered here.
Some of the more interesting aspects of the story, are the way she is treated when she walks into a boardroom or courtroom, the constant Sugababes-style revolving door, as one Drifter leaves or is pushed, and in comes another one, and some of the backstories of band members do tug at the heartstrings.
Ed Curtis’s book has a few good lines, but you feel there is a strong desire behind the scenes, to cut to the hits as soon as possible. Even though The Drifters’ back catalogue has some mighty bangers, it does mean that any dramatic tension involving Faye’s battles to get things done is a tad diluted.
Faye Treadwell refuses to give up on the band that she adores and the show explores the highs and the lows. It’s a shame that we rush from hit to hit, as it feels as if someone has put another dime in the jukebox baby and just when we get into a track, on comes another one.
You get the sense that this woman has to compromise her personal life to survive in the music industry, but there is a gloss and sheen to the proceedings here and many missing jigsaw pieces, so instead of grit, we get polish. That is not to say there is not much to enjoy here.
The songs, including Under the Boardwalk, Save the Last Dance for Me and Saturday Night at the Movies are delivered with genuine soul and nostalgia. They don’t make ’em like this anymore. So to hear them sing with such verve and spirit is a really joyful experience.
Miles Anthony Daley, Ashford Campbell, Tarik Frimpong and Dalton Harris are all excellent, as they have perfect harmonies, and play many other parts, as well as the fab four. They are barely off the stage, and they keep the discs spinning, even when the show feels like a scratched record, repeating narrative arcs.
Jaydah Bell-Ricketts has a great stage presence as Faye’s daughter – known here as a girl. But the role is very underwritten and only exists so that Faye can talk to someone about the plot.
Carly Mercedes Dyer plays Faye and if you saw her in Anything Goes at the Palace Theatre last year, you will know just how wonderful she is. On the night I attended Loren Anderson played the role, and she took a while to settle in and fully embrace the part.
By the second half, she conveys anger and frustration with ease and embraces Faye’s feistiness, as it is survival of the fittest. She has a tendency to over-sing the likes of Harlem Child, and this means it becomes quite shrill at times. But over time, with more performances under her belt, Loren could own this part.
In terms of entertainment, fans of the band and anyone who does not know how they got to be so big, or that a woman was responsible for their enormous success, there is plenty for you to enjoy.
It is only on for a few more days though, so you’d better put the Opera House in your little red book and head on over to Quay Street before it closes.
The Drifters Girl is at the Opera House until Saturday 14th October and can be booked here.