The latest jukebox musical to hit the West End has finally opened after a longer wait than most. First announced in 2019, it has taken two years to arrive, but when the subject matter is a group who have been around for just under 70 years, it feels fitting. But could a musical about The Drifters be worthy of their impressive legacy and worth the wait?
The Drifters Girl tells the story of the legendary group who featured more line-up changes than the Sugababes, and the woman who made them - Faye Treadwell. She is playes by the incredible Beverley Knight who has swapped the charts for the stage, impressing in recent years in shows such as Memphis and The Bodyguard. Now, after an absence that feels far too long, she is back where she belongs - wowing audiences with her incredible vocals.
Beverley holds the show together, narrating the story of The Drifters and how she built them up, joined by the four Drifters and her own girl (tonight played by Savanna Musoni). The cast may total only six, but between them they take on a multitude of roles, effortlessly switching from one character to another with the simplicity of the placement of a hat.
While Beverley as Faye is the centrepiece of the show, she surprisingly doesn't get many musical numbers herself. This is very much in keeping with the essence of the show, being able to step back when necessary to let somebody else taking centre stage - with each of the five adult cast members getting their own moments in the spotlight. When she does get the chance to show off her unmistakable vocals, it brings the house down. Her standout moments are the stunning 'Harlem Child' and the showstopping Act one finale 'I Don't Want To Go On Without You' leading into a spine-tingling and creative reprise of 'Stand By Me'. Anyone who has been lucky enough to see Beverley Knight live will know she is one of the greatest talents the UK has ever produced. Anytime she sings is going to be something special and her performances in The Drifters Girl is no exception. She completely encapsulates Faye Treadwell, becoming her for a believable performance full of emotion and sass.
The four Drifters are played by performances who have thrilled in other West End shows in recent years. Tosh Wanogho-Maud and Adam J Bernard, both from Dreamgirls (Tosh understudied the role Adam played before taking over full time himself), Tarinn Callender who was in the original West End cast of Hamilton and Matt Henry who originated the role of Lola for the West End production of Kinky Boots. With two Olivier award winners in the mix, you know the talent on that stage is going to be nothing short of sensational. They certainly don't disappoint.
While the four come together to play The Drifters and all their various members, they also take turns playing other roles. Matt Henry steals the opening section of the show with his incredible voice and impressive moves, particularly as original Drifter Clyde McPhatter, Tarinn Callender dominates in the iconic number 'Saturday Night At The Movies' as well as a small but memorable turn as Nat King Cole while Adam J Bernard breaks every heart in the audience performing 'There Goes My Baby' as Faye's husband George Treadwell.
While all four are ridiculously amazing, I have to single out Tosh Wanogho-Maud for his particularly phenomenal performance. Showing incredible versatility, Tosh has the biggest challenge of everyone on that stage by playing some of the biggest characters, all extremely contrasting. As Rudy Lewis he takes us on a tragic journey that goes from laughter to sadness in the blink of an eye, while he undoubtedly has THE performance of the night as Ben E. King with his version of 'Stand By Me' being one of the most incredible vocals I have ever witnessed on the West End stage, closely followed by his lead vocals on the legendary 'Under The Boardwalk'. Utterly captivating, Tosh's performance had me convinced I was watching a future Olivier award winner.
Some of the other roles the four Drifters take on are increasingly surprising, - these include Tosh as a waitress and Matt Henry as a certain beloved TV presenter (No spoilers from me). One of the most surprising sequences features a range of cities in the UK including the most unexpected use of the word "babs" you will see in a musical. While the varying accents are humorous on the surface, they feature a more serious undertone with themes of racism and sexism bubbling away. While The Drifters Girl is at heart a feelgood show full of classic songs we all know and love, it does at times bring up these more serious subjects with 'This Magic Moment' putting the theme of racism front and centre. Ultimately show, these themes are touched upon momentarily and not unpacked as much as perhaps they should be.
Fantastic set design from Anthony Ward sees a fairly simple stage come to life with moving parts that transports it from a Drifters concert to a TV show to a taxi effortlessly. The stage also features lighting from Ben Cracknell which bathes the cast beautifully, while the video design is deliberately laid out to look like you are watching an old tape (ask your grandparents) - a subtle yet clever touch which shows how much thought there has been for every detail of this show.
Whether you are familiar with The Drifters story or even their songs, there is something for everyone in The Drifters Girl. Classic songs like 'Saturday Night At The Movies' and 'Save The Last Dance For Me' will appeal to audiences of every age, and while some of their biggest hits might be notably absent (though you can catch them in another beautiful musical), you will come out of there completely satisfied by the two hours of top class performances you have witnessed.
Perhaps there are elements to The Drifters Girl that make the show far from perfect - The end comes far too suddenly, and one or two fairly big moments lack the impact they deserve. Overall, however, this is a fantastic show which sets its sights at giving the audience a great night - something that we all need after the last two years. A testament to a good show is how it makes you feel - I left the theatre with a huge grin on my face so it definitely does the trick. What really makes this show exceptional is the fact it is full of outstanding performances from a ridiculously amazing cast. The best vocals you will hear in the West End bar none, The Drifters Girl is an absolute must-see.
The Drifters Girl plays at the Garrick Theatre until March 26th 2022. Tickets available from https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/shows/the-drifters-girl/