The Drifters Girl – Garrick Theatre, London

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Writers: Ed Curtis

Director: Jonathan Church

With Beverley Knight having gone off to a nunnery (she’s now starring in Sister Act), The Drifters Girl sails on with a new crew at the helm. Stepping in is Grammy-nominated Broadway star Felicia Boswell, who brings with her enough pizazz to make sure that West End audiences will stand by the show for quite a while longer.

Unapologetically, this is a juke box musical, packing the hits (a couple of dozen at a rough count) of The Drifters, a four-man American vocal group of the 1950s and 60s, into 140 minutes of low brow, high energy entertainment. Audiences are likely to enter the theatre already humming the show’s tunes and to leave it singing them loudly. If expectations are set no higher than that, then, from the dazzlingly-staged opening medley through to the heartwarming finale, nothing will disappoint.

Normally, shows like this tell the rags-to-riches story of a musical act catapulted to fame, but the over-familiar format is thwarted here by the fact that The Drifters is more a brand name than a fixed group of individual singers. Working from an idea by Tina Treadwell, Ed Curtis’ book turns the spotlight on the group’s ambitious and single-minded manager, Faye Treadwell and her struggles to steer the group to international success. She combats law suits, frequent changes in the group’s composition and loss, while racial and gender prejudice add some real meat to the story. Interestingly, problems encountered on a tour of the United Kingdom are seen as comparable to those in America’s Deep South.

Boswell’s gutsy performance holds it all together and she throws in a show stopping belter in each half. Child actors in rotation play Tina, to whom Faye narrates the story, but the company consists of just four others; it seems like a lot more. Adam J Bernard, Tarinn Callender, Matt Henry and Tosh Wanogho-Maud are always The Drifters, fitting in neatly with the concept that, regardless of changes in personnel, the group remains essentially the same. The four sing and dance to Karen Bruce’s choreography superbly and they also take on all the other roles (including, to much amusement, Bruce Forsyth).

Anthony Ward’s set designs make much use of fluorescent lighting, combining with Fay Fullerton’s glam costumes to give the show a glitzy feel fitting for its era, while a nine-strong orchestra, under the direction of Will Stuart, backs up with a full sound. Director Jonathan Church’s slick, fast-paced production had already become a well-oiled machine in waiting for its new star to step in and light up the West End. The Drifters Girl remains undemanding and often predictable, but it is still irresistible.

Booking until 12 February 2023

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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