The Drifters Girl – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Book: Ed Curtis

Director: Jonathan Church

The Drifters Girl centres around the story of Motown boy band The Drifters and their razor-sharp manager Faye Treadwell. Treadwell made her name in the music industry thanks to her steely determination and laser-precise business acumen. She became one of the first prominent female African-American music managers, blazing a trail for countless others to follow in the decades to come.

With the music of The Drifters themselves providing the soundtrack, this is a vocal powerhouse of a show. Their musical legacy holds countless classic songs which ultimately are the primary draw of the show and do indeed sweep it along. There are times, however, when the narrative is forced to rely upon an anthemic number rather than stand alone, which makes the content feel a little sparse. The briskness of the storytelling is often counterproductive in that the emotional dialogue is often diluted. Even so, songs are often counterpoints of the narrative as it unfolds and, in particular, the delivery of Come On Over To My Place in Act Two is the perfect juxtaposition of the absurd and the deeply upsetting.

The emotional content of the story is often compromised in favour of a neat soundbite. Faye exclaims “I don’t answer no phone but my own” when we first meet her in a succinct summary of her character – refusing to work as a secretary she becomes co-manager of the band, keen to make them a brand ‘like the Yankees’.

Whilst the soundbites and visuals are undoubtedly slick, the story is one of grit in the face of outright discrimination, of triumph over sexism, and the personal struggles of one extraordinary woman; unfortunately, Ed Curtis’ book is just a little light on emotional depth. It is frustrating that the book is not as well put together as the rest of the production because Treadwell’s story in and of itself is fascinating. There has been a lot of attention to dates, facts and figures and it feels that in the quest for accuracy, the heart of the story was omitted – this would not be the first jukebox musical to prioritise production over content; it is nevertheless a visual triumph.

With the slick design courtesy of Antony Ward, with his receding soundproofed walls, coupled with sleek artistic lighting from Ben Cracknell, this musical reads like a glossy magazine: more than once the versatility of the LED tube lighting that Cracknell has so sophisticatedly placed wows to create some visually stunning effects. In particular, during the lineup changes, the infinity mirror effect created is exceptional. In the sequences about her husband, the lighting allows us to delve into Treadwell’s memories visually.

Loren Anderson does an outstanding job in the central role: she conceals a vocal sledgehammer within her tiny frame and enraptures the audience with her rib-rattling volume. Stand By Me provides a particular highlight: the arrangement is cleverly thought out and the delivery is surgical. Anderson is poised like a lioness throughout: beautiful and majestic, there is an underlying grit that is a force to be reckoned with. She has excellent chemistry with the rest of the cast and bounces well off of the quartet playing the titular boy band, each member of which is a potent vocalist and delivers Karen Bruce’s choreography to perfection.

It has to be said that whilst each of the individual members of the band is a highly accomplished triple threat, they are largely interchangeable as the band and numerous other characters. This perhaps is deliberate given that the real-life band has had over 60 members across its lifespan. The stripping of any personal character development allows for the flow of the production as they slide in and out of scenes in various guises. Unfortunately, on press night, there were some audio issues in the first act with a delayed un-muting of Ethan Davis’ mic which meant that we missed the opening of some numbers. This was a real shame as his voice is incredible and it slowed the flow of the production. Dalton Harris, Miles Anthony Daley and Tarik Frimpong together with Davis have an unparalleled connection onstage. From their syncopated dance moves to their fantastic range of accents, they are a well-oiled machine.

Jonathan Church has put together a tightly directed production with all the glitz of Hollywood which is highly consumable. This show is a solid investment of your time and you are sure to be dancing the night away.

Runs until 28 October 2023 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Slick and stylish

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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