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BWW Review: THE DRIFTERS GIRL, Garrick Theatre


A highly talented cast can't mask a show that lacks emotional engagement and clarity

The Drifters Girl

The Drifters GirlThe Drifters Girl, despite that missing apostrophe, should be a smash-hit jukebox musical. A plethora of familiar hits, a remarkably talented cast and the inspiring story of Faye Treadwell, the African-American woman who took over as the group's manager and steered them to global success despite legal battles, sexism and racism. In reality, the brilliant cast is not enough to disguise the lack of cogent storytelling and emotional engagement.

Faye's story deserves to be told; at the time, the success of a black woman in charge of a group was unthinkable. When both segregation existed and women were expected to stay at home, the story is all the more remarkable. Beverley Knight is a powerhouse as Faye, she has a formidable presence and a sharp tongue. Her creative rendition of "Stand By Me" is a beautiful mixture of power, emotion and purpose. Her incredible voice deserves a few more big numbers in this show.

The rest of the cast is an impressive list: Olivier award-winning Adam J Bernard is impressive as George Treadwell, especially his vocal flourishes in a haunting version of "There Goes My Baby" at the start of the second half. Tosh Wanogho-Maud takes on much of the comedy as a flirtatious barmaid and a variety of hotel receptionists. His performances as Rudy Lewis are particularly good, showing glimpses of the highly talented, but tormented singer. "Sweets For My Sweet" is an irresistible highlight.

Tarinn Callender shows an infectious smile and smooth vocals and Matt Henry, who also won an Olivier Award as Lola in Kinky Boots, is particularly good as the dastardly Lover Paterson who Faye had to go up against in court over the band's name. At just 11, Savanna Musoni is also sweet and convincing as Faye's unnamed but ever-present daughter.

Having just four performers play all the roles is ambitious. Sometimes it works very well, such as an energetic and creative take on the horribly predictable racism the band encountered as they tried to check into various hotels during a UK tour.

However, it does not always come off. The actors are all very adept at jumping between the multiple characters, but the sheer number of singers (The Drifters had more than 60 members in 60 years) means that the audience cannot really get to engage with any of them. It also may have been a better idea to have a separate performer as George Treadwell, as it is almost impossible for Bernard to be both Treadwell and a Drifter at the same time.

There is no doubting the skill and energy of the performers and the beguiling music shows how long-lasting the band's influence has been. But the show suffers from a lack of detail in the story; the successful court case, in particular, feels rushed and strangely inconsequential.

Anthony Ward's set design is fairly stark, relying on sliding panels and Ben Cracknell's creative lighting, rather than objects on stage. Fay Fullerton's beautiful costume design is detailed and carefully shows the slick suits of the 50s, morphing into the flares and more garish patterns of the 60s.

The success of similar shows such as Jersey Boys prove that a jukebox musical can still work despite thin storylines and time will tell The Drifters Girl will engage audiences in the same way. It feels as though Faye, at times unlikable, but obviously a remarkable woman, deserves a bit more depth to her story.

The Drifters Girl is booking at the Garrick Theatre until 26 March 2022

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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