WORTH A LOOK?: ****1/2
WHEN?: Saturday 6 November 2021 (matinee), opening 25 November and booking to 26 March 2022
RUNTIME: 135 minutes (includes a 20-minute interval)
There are 2 Beverley Knight solos just before the interval of this jukebox musical when she sings I Don’t Want To Go On Without You into Stand By Me at a particularly emotional moment when you remember that she may just be theatre’s greatest current vocalist.
- Read on for reasons including how Knight is surrounded by 4 top-notch male performers who make this show come alive
We’ve chills normally reserved for Whitney Houston in her prime and there are 2 other moments in this world premiere of a brand new musical that come close.
Knight plays Faye Treadwell, the titular role, and manager of band The Drifters after her husband George dies unexpectedly. The Drifters were an American doo-wop and R&B soul/vocal group who had hits in the 50s, 60s and 70s and had a revolving membership which featured some 60 performers.
Adam J Bernard (Dreamgirls, Savoy) plays George Treadwell and provides the 2nd showstopping moment expressing his love for The Drifters Girl during a devastating There Goes My Baby which reminds of Prince at his very best.
The 4 leading men play a range of roles and it is Tosh Wanogho-Maud as the closeted Rudy Lewis who provides the 3rd showstopping moment during an impressive version of Under The Boardwalk which morphs into a haunting In The Land Of Make Believe with Matt Henry (Kinky Boots, Adelphi) as some light is shed on his untimely death at the age of just 27.
We’re here because of Knight (Pantoland at the Palladium) and were surprised by how many of the 25 songs by The Drifters we recognised.
The 4 male leads including Tarinn Callender (Hamilton, Palace Theatre) each play a variety of roles to illustrate Treadwell’s central theory that the group was more important than its members arguing that the New York Yankees would always be a separate brand whoever played for them.
Knight really delivers on the acting front also with a role she can really sink her teeth into of a black woman encountering both sexism and racism in the music industry decades ago but is a story which will still resonate today.
This preview wins a standing ovation and if we reel off some of the hits that may prove familiar you may have a sense why this is a musical that could run and run – Kissin’ In The Back Row Of The Movies, Come On Over To My Place, Save The Last Dance For Me, Saturday Night At The Movies and You’re More Than A Number In My Little Red Book were just some of our highlights.
If we had just 1 reservation it would be that the story of the legendary manager of The Drifters, the world’s first African American female music manager, with a book Ed Curtis is just a little too fond of focusing on the legal argument that dogs Treadwell at the expense of more emotional material such as the relationship with her daughter who acts as a counterpoint through much of the show.
Fans of Matt Henry’s who won an Olivier for Kinky Boots will relish his opportunity to cross dress during this show which is almost upstaged by some fine comic work by Wanogho-Maud who was so good we definitely want to see more of him on a West End stage.
See it then for its top-notch cast and those moments described above where the production makes you realise why going to the theatre can be such a transformative and transcendant experience. The Drifters Girl has a lot of heart as well as a lot of soul.