🎭 The Drifters Girl
📍 Mayflower Theatre, 22-26 Commercial Road, Southampton, SO15 1GE
🗓 Thursday 14th September 2023
A TRIUMPHANT SMASH-HIT
Do you know the story of Faye Treadwell? No? Well neither did I before I discovered the new musical The Drifters Girl in London last year. This phenomenal musical is now embarking on its first ever tour and I was lucky enough to catch it during its opening week at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton.
Faye Treadwell was the trailblazing manager of the incredible vocal harmony group The Drifters at a time when women did not hold such positions in the music industry. This musical from Michael Harrison and David Ian tells the story impeccably well and the book by Ed Curtis doesn’t shy away from the harsh truths of the story.
Of course there are changes from the West End production, mainly with the set, but these changes do not impact on the show in any way and it was enjoyable to notice subtle changes in orchestrations and dialogue too.
Carly Mercedes Dyer is triumphant in the leading role of Faye Treadwell. Taking on a role originated by the UK’s soul queen Beverley Knight and then performed by Broadway royalty Felicia Boswell is no mean feat! Dyer’s unique vocals are different from her predecessors and fit wonderfully into the production. She competently belts out big numbers but also has a sublime softness to her voice which really draws you into the soul of the character. Her rendition of Harlem Child brought the house down as she gave everything she’s got to deliver a flawless show-stopping performance.
Dyer’s acting was also great throughout as we witnessed Faye deal with misogyny, heartbreak and racism. How she portrays these emotions while also showing the strength of character Faye had can only be described as a masterclass in acting. If there was an award for the amount of different ways the words “okay then” can be expressed, then surely Dyer would be the winner! There is no doubt that Dyer has stamped her own identity onto the character of Faye Treadwell and made it her own.
One of the remarkable things about The Drifters Girl is the multi-roling undertaken by the four male leads in the show. In fact, apart from Faye and Girl, the guys take on every single role in the production! A lot of shows have an element of multi-roling but none do it with quite as many characters nor as successfully as this one.
Ashford Campbell is victorious as he takes on the main roles of Ben E King and Rudy Lewis, both former lead vocalists of The Drifters. Campbell is a truly mesmerising performer and it is an honour to watch him shine in this production, after previously being a cover in the West End. When he sang Stand By Me you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium as the audience bathed in the beauty of his vocals. He also ripped my heart out as he performed In the Land of Make Believe, leaving me in no doubt that this is a breakthrough role for Campbell who I am sure is going to have a huge career in musical theatre. His vocal range is impressive and he is in complete control of his voice which is a real treat for the ears.
His acting ability was stretched to its fullest as each of his characters are arguably the most different to one another, but what I saw was a complete metamorphosis in gesture, voice, body language and vocal tone. I was particularly impressed with his performance as the tragic Rudy Lewis, which was done with utter sensitivity, and I refer you to my previous statement. Ashford Campbell is going to be a huge star. It will be a crime against theatre if he is not.
I instantly fell in love with Miles Anthony Daley and his portrayal of George Treadwell. He plays the character with utter conviction and he is genuinely mesmerising to watch. Daley has a beautiful tone to his voice and when he performed There Goes My Baby I felt as if I was receiving a warm vocal hug. I found myself closing my eyes and just focusing on the pure soulful beauty that I was listening to.
Matthew Dawkins oozed sex appeal from the stage as he portrayed Clyde McPhatter and was wonderfully unlikeable as Lover Patterson! His voice has a great depth to it which is wonderful and it’s obvious that Dawkins is having the time of his life on the stage. I am always drawn to performers who look like they’re loving every moment on the stage and this was Dawkins for me in this production. His joy was projected onto the entire audience and I couldn’t help but smile as I watched his joyous performance. My favourite vocal performance of his was probably When My Little Girl Is Smiling.
As Johnny Moore, Dalton Harris takes on arguably some of the biggest hits of The Drifters and he does so with seemingly effortless ease. Harris showcased phenomenal vocal acrobatics which give a whole new dimension to the songs. He impresses with his stage presence and his versions of hits such as Saturday Night at the Movies, There Goes My First Love and Kissin’ in the Back Row of the Movies are wonderfully jubilant. He doesn't shy away from the big notes and his powerful voice fills the auditorium.
The final role in the show is that of Girl. In a change from the West End production where this role was played by a child, it is now undertaken by Jaydah-Bell Ricketts, a young adult. This change allows us to see the character grow through the story, whilst not losing the childlike quality. Although the smallest role in the show, Ricketts still manages to shine as she beautifully plays the integral role.
Regular readers of mine will know how much I love the technical aspects of a show and this production of The Drifters Girl is technically flawless! The lighting design by Ben Cracknell frames the piece triumphantly and when married with a masterful and multi-functional set by Anthony Ward it really creates exactly the right atmosphere time and time again.
The video design by Andrzej Goulding is fantastic and at times incredibly subtle. This means that rather than take over the production it sits wonderfully within it to help tell the story.
Finished off with choreography by Karen Bruce and direction from Jonathan Church and Matt Henry, there is no doubt in my mind that The Drifters Girl is the musical theatre production of the year.
With standout, career-defining, vocal performances from everyone involved, The Drifters Girl is not to be missed. There is a line in the opening song of the show which goes “missed my woman’s velvet touch” and I’m honestly already missing the velvety smooth vocals and tight harmonies of this show. There’s no doubt that I will be seeing this show again in a few different locations as it tours the UK.
This show will make you laugh and cry but one thing it’s packed full of is the feel-good factor! With the addition of a mega mix at the end of the show, the production finishes on an amazing high as the entire audience in the Mayflower Theatre were up on their feet singing and dancing.
Head to www.thedriftersgirl.com where you can find a full list of tour dates with links to book tickets at all venues as well as show information and cast biographies.
All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest and free from influence.
CAST AT THIS PERFORMANCE:
Carly Mercedes Dyer as Faye Treadwell; Miles Anthony Daley as George Treadwell (and others); Ashford Campbell as Ben E King / Rudy Lewis (and others); Matthew Dawkins as Clyde McPhatter / Lover Patterson (and others); Dalton Harris as Johnny Moore / Gerhart Thrasher (and others); Jaydah-Bell Ricketts as Girl
RUNNING TIME (approx):
2 hours 20 minutes, including interval
Smoke and haze; Sudden gunshot; Occasional bad language
Please note: all images used in this review are of the 2022 West End cast