The Drifters' joyful show beats Saturday night at the movies

These slick Drifters’ joyful doo-wop sure beats Saturday night at the movies: PATRICK MARMION reviews The Drifters Girl musical stage show

The Drifter’s Girl (Garrick Theatre, London) 

Rating:

The Drifters were a feelgood fix for a generation growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, thanks to toe-tapping tunes such as Under The Boardwalk and Save The Last Dance For Me.

Now they’re back, in a musical tribute show starring Beverley Knight as Faye Treadwell, the gutsy young ‘girl’ of the title. 

Treadwell managed The Drifters like a football club for nearly 50 years – first with husband George, then on her own after his death – until her retirement in 2001.

The quartet, loved for their bright, doo-wop harmonies, have boasted almost 40 members over the decades – the most famous being Ben E King.

The Drifters were a feelgood fix for a generation growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, thanks to toe-tapping tunes such as Under The Boardwalk and Save The Last Dance For Me. Now they’re back in a musical tribute show at the Garrick Theatre

Faye and George held the hotly contested rights to the brand, and fought off attempts by some of those many, many former ‘Drifters’ to set up rival bands. 

Relating her story here to her young daughter Tina, Faye describes how she pushed her way into the man’s world of music production, remembers her ten-year marriage to George and recounts the copyright disputes thereafter.

Knight’s solo songs, delivered in her rich, gospel warble, tell of Faye’s struggles as an Arkansas country girl with an accent like a banjo twang trying to cut it in the Big Apple. 

There are lush variations on some of The Drifters’ lesser known numbers, from the tricky openers Follow Me and Harlem Child through a Tina Turner-ish treatment of Without You to the soulful lament of Nobody But Me – tied to George’s death in 1967.

But much as we sympathise with Treadwell’s trials as a woman of colour in a racist, misogynistic world, what really gets the house going – if not Kissin’ In The Back Row – is Knight’s four male co-stars’ slick and joyful romp through The Drifters’ song book.

The tribute show show stars Beverley Knight as Faye Treadwell, the gutsy young ‘girl’ of the title. Treadwell managed The Drifters like a football club for nearly 50 years – first with husband George, then on her own after his death – until her retirement in 2001

Right from the off, Adam J Bernard, Tarinn Callender, Matt Henry and Tosh Wanogho-Maud blow us away with a blistering Come On Over To My Place, and greatest hits including Saturday Night At The Movies, Stand By Me and There Goes My Baby.

All four serve up cute cameos, too; from Callender’s full-of-himself Nat King Cole (who Faye scoffs ‘needs a ladder to get over himself’) to Wanogho-Maud’s loveably awkward Rudy Lewis, struggling with his gay sexuality.

Bernard plays it cool as husband George and there’s even a ‘nice to see you, to see you nice’ turn from Henry as Bruce Forsyth, when the band hit the London Palladium in the Seventies.

The sometimes serious mood lifts every time the guys launch into one of the big numbers in Jonathan Church’s slick and snazzy production.

Right from the off, Adam J Bernard, Tarinn Callender, Matt Henry and Tosh Wanogho-Maud blow us away with a blistering Come On Over To My Place, and greatest hits including Saturday Night At The Movies, Stand By Me and There Goes My Baby

It’s immaculately drilled, with Karen Bruce’s snappy choreography synchronised with the signature harmonies, shuffling percussion and tooting brass.

And it looks sensational, too, thanks to all those smart, shiny suits – and Anthony Ward’s design. 

His sliding panels with geometric patterns and neon-lit lightsaber poles recreate the feel of the band’s album covers down the years.

So maybe it’s hard getting emotionally involved with Faye’s balance sheets and litigation sagas, but the silver heads bobbing in the stalls in rhythm to the hits are a touching sight to behold.

Forget Saturday night at the movies – I predict that Wednesday’s matinee at the Garrick will be where it’s at. 

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