The Drifters Girl at the Garrick Theater is a jukebox musical with not quite enough hits.
Treadwell (Beverley Knight) is, after all, the no-compromise boss who stopped the Drifters from drifting and brought them to England for a career restart when their American fame began to wane while leading a string of legal disputes over possession of the group’s name .
I have an argument about the title of The Drifter Girl – and it has nothing to do with that annoying missing apostrophe. Given that Faye Treadwell, one of the earliest African-American music managers, skilfully steered the Drifters through decades of success after single-handedly taking over the group after the death of her husband George Treadwell, she couldn’t have moved from ‘girl’ to something less gender-hostile ?
I doubt I’ll be the only viewer who didn’t know, before the show, that the Drifters line-up has had more pros and cons over the years than a full-day rendition of the Hokey-Cokey. This dizzying breakthrough in personnel – mirrored ironically by the fact that all four other adult actors except Knight play “and others” – makes it difficult to get involved with individual stories.
Book author Ed Curtis sensibly rolls the punches and instead gives us a strong continuous line from Faye – who tells a casual story of her involvement with her little daughter – and that incomparably sweet Drifters sound.
From the group’s earliest incarnation in the mid-1950s as Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, this haunted mix of soul and doo-wop produced hits, though arguably not quite enough of the instantly recognizable headlines it takes to make a West End – Maintain juke box musical.
Adam J Bernard, Tarinn Callender, Matt Henry and Tosh Wanogho-Maud, all tireless quick-change artists, do an excellent job with greats like “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “Under the Boardwalk”. In one sharply cut episode, the irrepressible “Come on Over to My Place” is intertwined with a selection of the grimly predictable racist and sexist insults that the group and Faye endured.
Bernard gives George Treadwell, the original owner of the Drifters name, a sharp wink, while Knight goes unimpressed by the fact that Faye cannot inevitably sing the best songs. Knight makes Faye 90 percent brave, work-oriented strength and 10 percent family-oriented tenderness, while leaving a slight hint of ambiguity in what really motivates her.
Jonathan Church’s stylish production engines have been largely unencumbered by sets over the years; When a group is going through as many changes as this, it is best not to get bogged down with the specifics of the place or the people.
A nagging need to hear from one of Faye’s opponents – what exactly have the Treadwells done to cause so much turmoil in the Drifting community? – is never completely suppressed, but overwhelmed by an exuberant cast.
Until March 26th (0330 333 4811)