This new musical charting the highs and lows of soul and R&B act The Drifters arrived at the Alhambra in Bradford this week, taking audiences on an unforgettable journey replete with a soundtrack containing some of the best popular music ever written.
The theatre programme lists all the songs performed in the show – a prolific profusion of hits. Most people outside of The Drifters’ fanbase might have difficulty naming more than a couple offhand, though the classics soon become apparent, from Under the Boardwalk to Saturday Night at the Movies, along with many other familiar numbers.
Carly Mercedes Dyer plays the authoritative and assured Faye Treadwell – the first American female music manager – a trailblazer who was way ahead of her time.
There are only six members in the cast, though a strong cast they are. The multi-talented team appear to swap from one role to another with ease – including being able to mimic British accents when The Drifters decide to re-locate from America to London in the mid-seventies to re-ignite their career. As the band toured the UK the audience were treated to a selection of regional accents from the west Midlands to Liverpool, sadly a Yorkshire one was missing, which might have been appropriate, given that the group apparently played a concert in Castleford as part of the tour.
A deeper story of struggle and power
Playing The Drifters (amongst many other roles) Miles Anthony Daley, Tarik Frimpong, Dalton Harris and Ashford Campbell were brilliant. Their names may not be household ones though I am sure that as solo artists any one of them could have a successful career. If you closed your eyes, you could be fooled into believing that you were hearing the original Drifters lineup, given the note-perfect vocals.
Set to the soundtrack of The Drifters hits, there is a story of struggle, power and legal wrangles going on in the background: their soulful sound is juxtaposed with the courtroom battles, gender identity issues and racism that marred their career.
Dyer is sensational in the role – giving outstandingly moving solo performances, bringing a lump to the throat most notably on her version of Stand by Me, which was worthy of a standing ovation. Playing her daughter, Jaydah Bell-Ricketts is charming.
When asked why Treadwell was not married, instead preferring to be The Drifters’ manager she replies, “because it is less work, shorter hours and better pay than being wed” – one of the many breathtakingly honest and humorous lines recited during the production.
Timeless melodies and perfect harmonies
The simple set works well, though it is the songs themselves that are woven into the show effortlessly to counterpoint the plot that are the true theatrical centrepiece.
Whilst for many, The Drifters Girl might be an opportunity to re-live the memories associated with songs, it was pleasing to see many members of the audience who were not even born when these songs were riding high in the charts.
With the songs here sung in perfect harmony by four strong voices, set to an unfolding narrative about gender and racial liberation and sprinkled with comical moments – there is a lot to like about The Drifters Girl. The standing ovation received at the end was rightly deserved, though giving credit to the splendid orchestra maybe an overdue omission.
The Drifters Girl runs at The Alhambra until Saturday 7 October before continuing its UK and Ireland tour – next stop Manchester.