Review, The Drifters Girl, Wales Millennium Centre, 8th May 2024 by Bethan England

 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

It’s always a challenge to bring something new and different in a Jukebox musical, where some, if not all, of the audience are going to know (and want to sing along to!) the songs. What is refreshing about The Drifters Girl is that it comes at the story of The Drifters from a completely different angle; that of Faye Treadwell, the woman behind the infamous band. Faye and her husband, George were the duo who brought us the musical sensation and it is really a breath of fresh air to focus on the duo and, specifically, the woman behind the music.

The stage is well designed, with moving flats creating recording studios, stages, bars and the office of Atlantic Music. I especially loved that the projections behind the performers crackled with static and black lines, the image distorting slightly and reminiscent of 50s and 60s television. The set moves seamlessly behind the actors meaning that new scenes and areas are created with no distraction to the action. Projection is particularly well used in the very funny section where we see the tumultuous time in the Drifters history where the members of the band were repeatedly changing; their names projected behind them as we manically try and keep up with these rapid shifts. Light and sound is also clever; I thought this was particularly poignantly used in the police interview sections, where bright white lamps flashed, and rapid blackouts took us straight to an Arkansas police station where the band were wrongly accused of a crime, simply due to the colour of their skin. Lighting was used to great effect with beautiful tableaus capturing the emotional moments; the band cast in blue light, spotlights, in darkness, whatever the moment called for.

The music is obviously a highlight of the show with toe-tapping numbers, including Saturday Night at the Movies, Come on Over to my Place, Save the Last Dance for Me and many more. The performers raise the roof with fantastic vocals and slick dance routines capturing the essence of the original performances. The Drifters switch with ease, becoming Ben E King, Rudy Lewis, Clyde McPhatter, Johnny Moore and the various other members of the band. It doesn’t matter which one takes the lead singer role; Ashford Campbell capturing starstruck Ben and tragic Rudy, Tarik Frimpong electrifying with his dance routines as Clyde and Daniel Haswell belting the high notes with ease as Johnny. Taking on the key role of George Treadwell is Miles Anthony Daley, breaking our hearts with There Goes my Baby, his voice soaring. The physicality and fast-pace costume changes is incredible to watch. Once minute they’re in the band, the next they’re feather clad showgirls! But throughout it all, you are never in any doubt as to which character you are watching.

The boys are complemented well with ‘The Girl’ played ably by Jaydah Bell-Ricketts, encouraging the tale to unfold; she is a constant presence on stage as she comes to understand the story of her mother’s part in the band’s history. Last and by no means least, is The Drifter’s Girl herself, Faye Treadwell played by Olivier Award Winner, Carly Mercedes Dyer. Her voice is wonderful, especially during Harlem Child and I Don’t Want To Go On Without You. You could hear a pin drop in the theatre as her vocals soared. She perfectly captures the battle that Faye Treadwell faced not only as a woman, but as a black woman in the music industry. Her command of the stage during her musical numbers is a joy to watch.

The show is full of humour and heart, but also touches on the racism faced by the band and Faye but also the sexism of the industry towards Faye. The words ‘No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks’ remind us all too well of our own very recent history of racism and the issues we still face to this day. Faye being asked ‘how long she has worked FOR the band’ and then asked, ‘which one are you sleeping with?’ reminds us that women still face this kind of question, even today.

It’s ultimate message as the audience got to its feet at the encore is that we must keep going and ‘do what is necessary’ to overcome whatever might be thrown at us. Faye’s determination that the Drifters would go on after losing her husband, in the face of outright prejudice and bigotry is still such an important message to be taken home with us after we leave our seats. So, this is more than your average jukebox musical, which is what makes it stand out amongst the likes of Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You. Yes, the music is wonderful, but the message is just as important as the songs that will draw those audiences in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get The Chance has a firm but friendly comments policy.