Miriam Gibson

Review: THE DRIFTERS GIRL a the Garrick Theatre

The Drifters Girl "The Drifters are like the Yankees", we're told at the beginning of The Drifters Girl, “The line-up may change, but in the end there's only one New York Yankees”. To demonstrate this constantly changing but-never-really-changing line-up, four actors play the various incarnations of the Drifters.

This isn't as complicated as it sounds, and if you're still puzzled then don't worry because you needn't bother much with the plot of this jukebox musical. It's all about the cast, and the music. Adam J Bernard, Tarinn Callender, Matt Henry and Tosh Wanogho-Maud play the fluctuating Drifters, with Beverly Knight as Faye Treadwell, their titular manager, and Dara Ajagbe putting in an adorable performance as her daughter. Knight is great, especially her rousing rendition of Harlem Girl. The four male leads are polished, both as the various Drifters and when transformation into supporting characters.

Treadwell was the world's first female African American music manager, and the musical tells the story of how she took the Drifters from obscurity to international fame. It was Treadwell, who died in 2011, who came up with the idea for the musical, which also credits Knight, Bernard, Calendar, Henry and Wanogho-Maud as co-creators. The Drifters Girl debuted in Newcastle and now opens at the Garrick for a shiny West End premiere.

The band's name isn't as recognisable in the UK as other groups from the same era, though their hits, including Stand By Me and Saturday Night At The Movies, definitely are. The Drifters Girl's best moments are its creative mingling of story and song. During Rat Race, the group flicks through a rapid succession of lead vocalists. The performance of Save The Last Dance For Me is interrupted by the all-black group being questioned by the police for a robbery they were nowhere near the scene of. The band also experienced multiple early deaths, including Treadway's husband, and a prolonged legal battle over song rights. However, The Drifters Girl is made up of mostly uncomplicated and upbeat moments. This isn't an in-depth discussion of race and gender- it's a celebration of the band's music and the powerhouse behind it. The group's UK tour is joyously depicted onstage, with the male leads clearly having fun with accents as the Drifters tour takes them from Southend to Glasgow. Ed Curtis' book rattles the story along and raises a few laughs along the way. The show also contains some nice lighting effects, slick choreography and a fun range of sparkly costumes, courtesy of Ben Cracknell, Karen Bruce and Fay Fullerton respectively.

The Drifters Girl isn't going to change anybody's life, and to be honest it's unlikely to become anyone's favourite musical. But the audience loved the show, clapping along and dancing throughout the curtain call. After a year and a half of West End shutdown, this is the kind of simple, glossy entertainment to enjoy on a Winter evening.