The Company of The Drifters Girl

If you’re after the kind of singing that makes the hairs stand-up on the back of your neck, then The Drifters Girl, at New Theatre Oxford all week, is for you.

If however you’re expecting a huge all-singing-and-dancing spectacle, then it may disappoint, the onus here firmly focused on the musicality and story-line rather than a big show extravaganza.

The Drifters Girl follows in the footsteps of numerous recent Motown musicals by relating not only the Drifters big hits, but their complex tale of highs and lows, a girl picking songs from a jukebox as the curtain goes up.

Jaydah Bell-Ricketts as Girl in the opening scene

But there is one big difference, because instead of concentrating solely on the band, The Drifters Girl features the plight and journey of Faye Treadwell (Carly Mercedes Dyer), the long suffering manager, who guided The Drifters through its various incarnations, court cases and domestic issues, while trying to keep the show on the road in an era famous for its mysogynism and racism.

Not that she lets any bigotry hold her back, nor the 60 plus Drifters who, well drift through the band during its tenure from the top of the charts, through the band’s highs and lows, and its much loved and numerous hit singles.

Carly Mercedes Dyer as Faye Treadwell and Miles Anthony Daley as George Treadwell

Think you don’t know any Drifters songs? Well you’d be wrong. From Stand by Me, Saturday Night at the Movies, Save the Last Dance for Me to Under the Boardwalk and Sweet for my Sweets you’ll be tapping along in no time.

And while we’d hate to deter from the cast’s fantastic voices or dance routines (a more hard-working and energetic line-up you’d be hard pressed to find), the basic touring set and minimal actors at odds with its West End reputation, while the story-line races along at breakneck speed taking no prisoners.

Miles Anthony Daley, Ashford Campbell, Tré Copeland-Williams, Tarik Frimpong as The Drifters

Once you accept this, you can get on with the show and just revel in the soaring voices, all exceptional, as they take it turns with the solos, and join forces with the harmonies, all the while holding you you in the palm of their hands. Carly Mercedes Dyer’s voice alone will blow your socks off!

The glorious crooning of Faye’s husband, played by Miles Anthony Daley, is poignant and heart-felt. Ashford Campbell, AKA Ben.E.King, Rudy Lewis and others, takes you to another level, his cadence moving, while Tarik Frimpong who replicates Hyde McPhatter and Lover Paterson (the baddie) and delivers his numbers in a more chirpy and upbeat manner. Boy, he’s got rhythm!

Carly Mercedes Dyers as Faye Treadwell and the company of The Drifters Girl

Daniel Haswell (Johnny Moore and Gerhart Thrasher) on the other hand may have a less exuberant approach, but the deep, throaty power in his voice balances the quartet’s skillset.

The elderly lady next to me was definitely a fan, and sang every word, which was beautiful to see, but whether she navigated the rather complicated story-line remains to be seen.

Tré Copeland-Williams in The Drifters Girl

The highlights for us were the Bruce Forsyth show, and The Drifters appearance at The White House for US president Bill Clinton and his wife Hilary, which put them back on the map during their more fallow years.

A trip to England also boosted their notoriety, a whistle-stop tour hastily arranged to help pay mounting legal bills over ownership of the Drifters name, a case they won, making history along the way, largely due to Faye’s tenacity. But the racism they encountered in the UK was hard to fathom and made for shameful viewing.

Miles Anthony Daley, Tarik Frimpong, Tré Copeland-Williams, Ashford Campbell, as The Drifters

As the musical wound up, Fay was reunited with her daughter (Jaydah Bell-Rickets), The Drifters inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone magazine listed them amongst the greatest artists of all time, their name ensured for generations to come.

Whether the musical manages the same remains to be seen, never quite gathering enough momentum. But for the singing alone, it’s worth the ticket price. Everything else is a bonus.

The Drifters Girl runs at New Theatre Oxford until Saturday March 9.