Review: Despite a sizzling songbook, The Drifters Girl struggles to find its feet
The Drifters were at one point one of the biggest vocal groups in America, especially in the early 1950s and during the '60s. In various incarnations, the group recorded many much-loved classics including 'Save The Last Dance For Me', 'Under The Boardwalk', and 'Saturday Night at The Movies'. They still perform to this day, with the group heading out on a UK tour this year.
Now, the group is the focus of the latest addition to the West End jukebox musical collection, The Drifter's Girl. The show follows the group's rise and the tribulations they faced - but focuses mainly on the group's manager Faye Treadwell who faced much hardship for being one of the first African-American female managers in the racist and misogynistic 1950s. The idea for the musical came from Faye's daughter Tina Treadwell who stated that if they were making a musical about The Drifters, her mother's story had to be a part of it.
Faye Treadwell is played by the legendary Beverley Knight. The multi-award-winning singer has become a regular on the West End stage over the last decade, starring in The Bodyguard, Cats and Memphis. She leads the show with much enthusiasm. Her vocals are to die for - she is at ease on stage and clearly is loving and cherishing every single moment. Her big ballads are stunning - she is a star performer. You can see why she has had such success on the West End stage.
The Drifters are portrayed wonderfully by the ever-talented foursome of Adam J Bernard, Tarrin Callender, Matt Henry and Tosh Wanogho-Maud. The actors each play multiple Drifters and other characters throughout, which I admit does get quite confusing. However, their performances are extremely strong and enjoyable to watch no matter what character they are playing. Truly talented actors.
The score for this show is by far its strongest point. An array of sublime music lifts the spirits of the audience and has your foot tapping and with such wonderful vocalists, the songs are lifted to new heights. The show's design elements are another one of its other stronger points. The clever set design by Anthony Ward combined with the lighting design by Ben Cracknell and video design by Andrzej Goulding create a wonderfully simplistic yet effective stage design.
Despite its strong performances, something is missing from The Drifters Girl. The confusion of such a small cast playing so many characters, and sometimes in such quick succession, means that by the middle of Act One you have already lost what the names of The Drifters, at that point, are. This gets even more confusing as the show goes on with the ever-changing lineup of the group. The show also seems to lose its focus on the story of Faye Treadwell. The racism and prejudice she received doesn't receive the attention it deserves and feels slightly disregarded by the script. The weak book is the reason why this musical doesn't ever really come together as a fully formed piece. I almost forgot about Faye Treadwell's daughter, just called 'Girl' in the show, who, as the sixth member of the cast, stands around like a ghost for the majority of the show.
Is it time that the jukebox musical took early retirement from the West End? I wouldn't complain. The Drifter's Girl tries its best to be an exciting new edition to the genre but despite powerful performances from some of the West End's best, it falls flat.