The Drifters Girl at Garrick Theatre
The saying ‘Behind every great man is a great woman,’ could easily sum up The Drifters Girl. The Drifters Girl is the musical which tells the story of Faye Treadwell who was The Drifters manager and outlasted not only all 60 different iterations of the group (!) but a court case over the rights to the name.
The back story of the Drifters Girl is interesting source material for the show, I knew very little about the Drifters save for their music but as we found out throughout the show that they had more than 60 members but 4 men helmed the band and stood apart from the brand, the men themselves were just as interesting including members such as Clyde McPhatter who left due to being drafted, Ben E.King of ‘Stand By Me; fame and Rudy Lewis who struggled with his sexuality. However despite the interesting stories of these men, when put up against Faye Treadwell it is easy to see why she was the focus of the show. A black woman managing a band in the 1950’s was unheard of and as the show makes clear it was Treadwell’s idea to make the group a brand.
Due to the volume of story and the amount of members the Drifters had the actually story of the Drifters members was sometimes hard to keep up with but at the heart of it that didn’t really matter and the story of Faye herself as portrayed very well. The device of Faye telling the story to her daughter, whilst a simple device was a clever choice as this helped make sense of where the focus should be throughout the show.
With a show like The Drifter’s Girl, the music has to be spot on. With 25 of the Drifters hits crammed into the show the music was a delight in itself. They did not try to shoehorn the music into the plot but simply used the band to sing the music at the moments in their careers when it happened. The only downside to this was that despite the musical focusing on Faye, very little of the music was sung by her.
The Drifters Girl has a small cast for a west end show with a cast of 6. On the night I saw The Drifters Girl 3 of these were understudies. I saw Vanessa Ela Young as Faye Treadwell, Michael James Stewart as George Tredwell, Tarinn Callender as Jonny Moore/Gerhant Thrasher, Curtis Scott as Clyde McPhatter/Lover Paterson and Tosh Wanogho-Maud as Ben E. King/Rudy Lewis.
Young was a stunning Treadwell, she allowed the audience to see a multifaceted portrayed with both a lot of grit yet vulnerability at the heart of it. The 4 men who play the various drifters have a hard job to do, they not only switch from playing numerous different members of the Drifters but also all other roles, from hotel check in staff to Bruce Forsyth! Clearly for their roles as members of the Drifters they need vocal prowess (which they all have bundles of) but they also need comedic chops as well as an ability to quickly switch from one character to another, which they all do with ease and Wanogho-Maud threatened to steal the show whenever he played a female fan. I should also mention Wanogho-Maud’s portrayal of Rudy Lewis which really left an impression, no mean feat considering the amount of characters they each portrayed. All four of these men had voices that suited the Drifters Music and the rolling door of the Drifters Line up meant that we got to see each of them take turns on the lead vocals for the group.
The set, designed by Anthony Ward, was kept relatively simple but for a show where the focus is all about the music, it didn’t need anything imposing. The set meant that we could move from location to location easily. There were some incredibly effective symbolic moments used at the more emotive moments of the show which showed just how impactful a simple set can be, especially when paired with a clever lighting design by Ben Cracknell.
The Drifters Girl not only has an interesting source story but combined with the music of the Drifters and a cast who really know how to sing this music it is a night out that will leave you humming as you leave the theatre, and probably the following morning!
The Drifters Girl is currently booking until 2nd July 2022. You can find out more and book tickets here.