Wednesday 1 November 2023

The Drifters Girl

 Curve, Leicester

31st October, 2023

The Drifters are like the Yankees…

The players may change but there'll only ever be one New York Yankees”

There has been a surge in bio-musicals in recent years such as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Tina, The Cher Show, Ain’t Too Proud and Broadway hits MJ and A Beautiful Noise. While shows such as these have been critically hit-and-miss, there’s no denying there’s a booming market for real-life stories uplifted by classic songs. They satiate audiences’ desire for nostalgia and are a safe bet for both producers and punters alike – there’s little chance of a dodgy score with a jukebox musical, and the ubiquitous megamix finales are nigh on guaranteed to get people on their feet. An additional benefit of the bio-musical over original story jukebox shows is that they are often rooted in the creative process (Beautiful is an excellent example of this). They reveal the background behind some of our most loved tunes and glimpses into the backstage life of glamorous idols, and provide a history lesson wrapped up in glitter and jazz hands. Writer Ed Curtis and Tina Treadwell’s The Drifters Girl takes this biographical approach. Led by Jonathan Church’s solid direction, it’s a playful and slick retrospective of the early R&B group, The Drifters, and their determined manager Faye Treadwell.

Curtis frames the narrative with Treadwell’s court case over ownership of The Drifters trademark. Treadwell tells her story to the Judge and her daughter, explaining how she was a key figure in forming and preserving the group throughout the 1950s and 60s, despite the frequent changes in the band’s line up. As a young teacher from Arkansas, Faye meets George Treadwell at a Nat King Cole gig and soon joins his New York music managing business, later marrying him. The couple promote The Drifters focusing on the brand rather than the individual members, insisting that it’s the songs audiences love, not the singer. We follow Faye through the ups and downs of her career: wrestling with pop star egos and the casual sexism and racism faced by a woman of colour in the music industry at the time; to The Drifters’ successful ascent of the music charts both in the USA and the UK, and her husband’s untimely death.

Curtis packs a lot into the two and a half hour running time – I learned a lot about a group I knew very little about previously – yet the very nature of the band’s history means that we are denied any deep dive into the intricacies and intimacies of their lives. The ‘revolving door’ make up of the group (think The Sugababes times ten) means that just as one member joins another leaves, and we rarely get to see them as individuals. An exception to this anonymity is the musical’s treatment of Rudy Lewis, the one-time lead Drifter, a talented but troubled soul struggling with addiction and his sexuality. While this episode is still brief, Lewis is an empathetic and complex character. Even so, this is very much Faye’s story and she is the driving force and emotional heart of the musical.


Church, Curtis and co. excel in propelling the narrative via musical set pieces. ‘Rat Race’ becomes a playful journey through the tumultuous chopping and changing of Drifters.  Some fast and furious staging sees Names flash upon the backdrop, the cast cut and change in a whirlwind of commotion. Similarly, the ‘Come On Over To My Place’ sequence effectively portrays the commonplace racism in 1960s/70s Britain as Faye and the group schlep from hotel to hotel in search of hospitality. Church’s masterstroke is his use of doubling. The tiny cast of six is utilised to it’s utmost and Miles Anthony Daley, Ashford Campbell, Tarik Frimpong and Ethan Davis work their socks off playing a myriad of roles peppered between slick musical numbers. Understudy Loren Anderson does a creditable job of stepping into Faye Treadwell’s shoes, but occasionally feels a little underpowered in comparison to her co-stars. However, as we’re relatively early in the run, I expect Anderson to become more confident in the role as the tour progresses.

In addition to Church’s expert handling of the small cast, some well-choreographed transitions and Anthony Ward’s sleek music studio inspired design contribute to a very slick production. While The Drifters Girl is at times slight and rushed, the musical performances of classics such as ‘Saturday Night At The Movies’, ‘Under The Boardwalk’ and ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ and polished set pieces are highly entertaining, adding up to an enjoyable, non-taxing night at the theatre.


The Drifters Girl plays at Curve, Leicester until 4th November 2023.

For full tour details please visit:


The company of The Drifters Girl. Credit: The Other Richard