The Drifters Girl
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield. 27th September 2023
From the very beginning of The Drifters Girl, as a young girl (Jaydah Bell-Ricketts) chooses her favourite hits from a jukebox and four young men burst on to the scene to belt out a familiar medley, the audience’s toes are tapping to some of the greatest hits of a generation. Though many may not know the story behind the ever-changing line-up of singers known as The Drifters, their back catalogue is so popular and so well loved that humming along right from the beginning is almost impossible to resist.
Under the management of George Treadwell, who owned the rights to the groups name, The Drifters started life as a backing group for lead singer Clyde McPhatter and went through many incarnations and different front men, including the formidable Ben E King. When George meets his future wife Faye, he quickly recognises her potential to take the group to new heights and despite a few raised eyebrows and objections, we soon begin to see how she became the powerhouse of the operation. Over the years as the group was confronted with the challenges of bereavement, conscription, drug abuse and legal challenge, it was Faye’s determination and dedication to The Drifters that ensured chart success on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the part originated by Beverley Knight, Faye Treadwell is played by the supremely talented Carly Mercedes Dyer. She dominates the stage with some wonderful one-liners and turns out flawless, powerful vocals. Her heart-wrenching I Don’t Want to Go On Without You/Stand by Me provides a stunning close to the first act of the show.
Alongside Dyer and Bell-Ricketts, you could be forgiven for thinking that the The Drifters Girl is supported by a large cast of talented performers, yet incredibly all the other parts, male and female, are played by just four actors who also create the changing faces of the group over the years. This enables each one of them to showcase their talents as one of the group’s many lead singers and also as a mix of characters, ranging from Nat King Cole to cocktail waitresses.
As George Treadwell, Miles Anthony Daley touches the audience’s heart during the beautiful number There Goes My Baby. Like the other men, he transforms seamlessly into The Drifters line-up, contributing to the close harmonies and slick moves with ease.
Ashford Campbell’s portrayal of Ben E. King and Rudy Lewis are finely tuned, compelling performances accompanied by stunning vocals. Tarik Frimpong provides great physicality and skill in his portrayal of frontman Clyde McPhatter and the sleazy Lover Paterson, with an equally superb voice to match. Campbell and Frimpong both have wonderful comic timing and produce some of the show’s funniest moments. An appearance by 60’s folk group Peter, Paul and Mary is a particular highlight.
The fourth Drifter is played by X-Factor winner Dalton Harris, whose rich voice is showcased wonderfully in the second act.
The Drifters Girl is accompanied by a simple but effective set that makes good use of light, projection and film to re-create the different studios and performance spaces. A live orchestra under the command of Dustin Conrad provides great energy to the musical numbers. Costumes and wigs mark the changing styles and decades with great effect,
To say that The Drifters Girl is the latest feelgood, jukebox musical that brings the audience to their feet does the show a real injustice. In portraying the challenges and discrimination experienced by black performers and talented black women in the United States and the UK not so very long ago, it also stands as a stark reminder of the very real prejudices that continue to affect people of colour to the present day.
A special mention must go to the warm and friendly staff at the Sheffield Lyceum who go out of their way to ensure the theatregoers’ experience is a pleasant one from start to finish.