Review: The Drifters Girl, Garrick Theatre

The Drifters Girl is a classic example of the worst type of jukebox musical – a group effort in failing to tell an interesting story whilst putting on a good show

“Everyone supports the Yankees but their players change all the time, so why can’t this be applied to a band?”

I hadn’t intended to go and see The Drifters Girl but I stepped in for an ailing pal as an emergency plus one. And I kinda knew what to expect and much as I appreciate the talents of Beverley Knight, Adam J Bernard, Tarinn Callender, Matt Henry and Tosh Wanogho-Maud, this West End biopic/jukebox combo was just not how I wanted to see those talents showcased. 

Ed Curtis’ book is a prime example of the inferior version of this genre. Presented with the nucleus of a prime piece of storytelling – the life of Faye Treadwell, one of the first African American women to succeed in music management – it then uses the thinnest details of that story to provide linking material between a whole lotta songs.

And they are good songs, sung very well. The Drifters’ discography covers some of the all-time great songs and the collaborative spirit behind the show means that these five cracking performers all get their moments to shine. Will Stuart’s musical direction is on point and some of the interpretations are cannily done.

The guys have to multi-role like billy-o though as they cover not only the 60-odd singers who were a member of the group at one point or another (Sugababes who?) but also any number of supporting characters, a baffling decision which ultimately detracts from their work as Jonathan Church’s direction tends too often towards caricature.

And through it all, Knight’s Faye – lumbered with a soul-sapping narrative device – is present without being given the depth of character that she deserves. The presence of her real-life daughter’s name on the credits suggests one reason why we don’t get past surface detail but ultimately its a group effort in failing to tell an interesting story, whilst putting on a good show.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
The Drifters Girl is now booking at the Garrick Theatre until 12th February

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