Faye Treadwell is the focus of The Drifters Girl: a jukebox musical about the trailblazing female and African American manager of the R&B group of the same name. The musical enjoyed a successful run at The Garrick Theatre in London during 2021/2022, offering a slightly different perspective on the life and times of a musical icon/group format that often makes its way to the West End. This genre is already incredibly saturated, but the decision to focus on Treadwell makes the production standout against similar musicals in its field. Set to the group’s memorable songs including ‘Saturday Night at the Movies’ and ‘Come on Over to My Place’, the production is currently touring the UK and Ireland.
With direction by Jonathan Church, who’s recent projects include Singin’ in the Rain (2012 and 2022) and 42nd Street (2023), this vibrant and nostalgic musical is playing at The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury this week, bringing the band’s infectious sound and Treadwell’s empowering life story to Kent. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review the production, after hearing such great things about the show from others in the theatre space.
A small cast telling a big story
There are only six performers in the cast of The Drifters Girl and four of them make up the many variations of The Drifters line-up, late manager George Treadwell and various Atlantic Records employees (played by Miles Anthony Daley, Ashford Campbell, Dalton Harris and Tarik Frimpong). They are joined by Carly Mercedes Dyer as Faye Treadwell and Jaydah Bell-Ricketts as Girl (the Treadwell’s daughter). For last night’s performance Loren Anderson covered the principal role, playing the inspiring manager.
It is a compliment to the cast that I didn’t realise there were only six performers on stage. The four multipart performers swiftly transition from their roles as Drifters members to prominent figures of the music business in literally seconds. The pacing is extremely fast given the group’s extensive history and whilst the audience is not given long to get to know each of the people that contributed to the group’s extensive career, the creative decision at least helps you understand the sheer number of people involved with The Drifters name. The intense pacing is a critique of Ed Curtis’ book over this specific UK and Ireland tour production, which could benefit from more breathing room for character development. The runtime is already very tight at 2h 15m including an interval, when musicals are frequently at least 15 minutes longer than this.
With a musical, any hiccups in the sound can affect the overall impression of the show. Dialogue is backed by instrumental sequences which at the current volume, makes it a little difficult to hear what is being said on stage. In these moments the production team needs to strike a greater balance in the projection of dialogue and musical backing.
On the whole the musical numbers are not affected by sound issues, apart from a few moments when Anderson travels up the vocal scale in her emotional, solo numbers (Nobody But Me and I Don’t Wanna Go On Without You / Stand By Me). The combination of the powerful singing and microphones is too intense, making it sound like Anderson is shouting into the microphone in places, which takes some of the emotional impact away from the performance.
Anthony Ward’s set design is simple, slick and full of bold colour. What it lacks in complexity and rotating set pieces, it more than makes up for in its sparkling lights and dynamic video backdrops. The Drifters Girl’s strengths lie in the inspiring character of Faye Treadwell and four Drifters in front of standing microphones. Ward’s work in combination with Lighting Designer Ben Cracknell and Video Designer Andrzej Goulding gives both of these elements plenty of room to shine, focusing on bringing vivid colours and the razzle dazzle factor to the production.
Anderson brings power and heart to the part in her acting and the softer vocals. The character is largely an acting role, but there are a few musical numbers where Treadwell has to reach some really high notes. It is here where the vocals are weaker and it is made more noticeable by the slight issues with the sound overall. On the whole I enjoyed Anderson’s performance though and they reached new heights in the finale songs. I wish we could’ve seen them perform at this vocal range for more of the show; they are brilliant in the last songs.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Daley, Campbell, Harris and Frimpong have some of the strongest harmonies and vocal blending in any of the jukebox musicals that I have watched recently. From their performances in the opening medley (Hello, Happiness / Kissin’ in the Back Row of the Movies / There Goes My First Love) I immediately knew that I was going to be wowed by their vocal performances. As the show progressed, my stance on this only strengthened as they brought more energy to the musical.
The UK & Ireland tour of The Drifters Girl has so many fantastic elements and with a little more polish, it has the potential to be a strong contender on the touring circuit. Jonathan Church’s spellbinding production is playing in Canterbury until Saturday 21st October, with last minute tickets available on the theatre’s website. It will definitely appeal to fans of Jersey Boys, Ain’t Too Proud and Motown in terms of musical era and storytelling style.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket for The Drifters Girl was gifted in exchange for a review.