Book: Ed Curtis
Director: Jonathan Church
Nominated for Best New Musical at the 2022 Olivier Awards and features a brilliant soundtrack packed full of legendary Drifters hits including ‘Saturday Night at The Movies’, ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ and ‘Stand By Me’.
The story charts the highs of hit records to the lows of legal battles along with personal heartbreak; it portrays Faye Treadwell as the legendary manager of The Drifters who refused to give up on the group she loved. She single-handedly took over the management of the group when her husband passed away in 1967, she bought out his partners and took over the management full-time.
Treadwell passed away in 2011 but she was hailed as a trailblazer, an African-American who fought hard to be treated as an equal in a man’s world and the show highlights how she became the leading black, if not the only black, female record promoter of the time. Faye’s daughter, Tina, was consulted throughout the writing and development of the show and the story is told by Faye recounting to her daughter her past life which helps keep the show on track and also aids the smooth running of the show by giving a quick description about what’s to come.
The majority of the story is told through performances of the songs and this establishes a wonderful atmospheric setting, helping the audience re-live their past enjoyment of when The Drifters songs were so popular; not every song is played in full but there’s enough to capture the scene, for example when the group are in a recording studio, or performing as though they are at one of their gigs along with their performances of their smooth dance moves, which are excellent.
The cast excel, albeit there are only six of them; the acting and performing is brilliant from the four male actors who play all the male roles between them, with quick costume changes, sometimes of just a hat or a jacket or the addition of only glasses or a cigar, to convey their transformations and it works really well. They also adopt regional UK accents when necessary, sometimes comedically and slip into character effortlessly. All their voices are stunning; all had solo pieces which at times are very emotionally charged and when singing together their voices are incredible.
Loren Anderson played Faye Treadwell, standing in for Carly Mercedes Dyer; she has a very powerful voice but at times she was slightly off-key and became rather shouty. Ashford Campbell (as Ben E. King and Rudy Lewis) is outstanding vocally and deserves special commendation.
All the popular Drifters songs are performed such as ‘Under the Boardwalk’, ‘Come on Over to My Place’, ‘Kissin’ in the Back Row of the Movies’ and ‘Sweets for My Sweet’ which are reminders of the band’s vocal legacy and timeless appeal, some bring a tear to the eye but the show relies heavily on a catalogue of songs which at times compromises the narrative journey and emotional force, on occasions it felt as though it was a pop concert performance but nevertheless a very enjoyable one.
The Drifters certainly look the part with smart, stylish suits and Treadwell’s outfits are reminiscent of the period. Anthony Ward has created a smart, economical set using geometric sliding partitions combined with Ben Cracknell’s backlights of changing colour and austere neon strip lighting which all combines with video design by Andrzej Goulding to generate the atmosphere and ambience of a concert or a pop music video.
This show is inevitably a nostalgia event for many theatregoers, and this was proved by the standing ovation displaying the audience’s enjoyment and their clapping and singing, but the premise of the story is rather weak and from research undertaken is not one hundred per cent accurate… Nevertheless, it is an entertaining production delivered by incredibly talented actors with amazing vocal abilities, which doesn’t tax the brain too much except at times when trying to work out who each character on stage is. It is emotional and joyful, portraying the struggles of a black woman in the exploitative record industry world and her success with a band which had more than 60 members in as many years.
The music in the show may be enough for devoted fans of The Drifters but for those coming to it without prior knowledge, the show’s story is somewhat weak and is neither compelling nor at times clear enough.
Runs until Saturday 14th Oct 2023