Jukebox musicals tend to fall into one of two categories. In one, the artist’s true story is so interesting, it has to be immortalised on stage. In the other, every song in their back catalogue is such a hit that a vague, if slightly nonsensical, plot can be made up around it (here’s looking at you, Mamma Mia). The Drifters Girl sits somewhere in the middle.
The story of the R&B group best known for constantly changing their members, it is a tale that’s interesting enough on its own – also highlighting the plight of black musicians in the mid-20th century. The songs are catchy and fun, too, if not always instantly recognisable. Chances are you know “Save the Last Dance For Me” and “Under the Boardwalk”, but the biggest number of the whole musical – Ben E King’s “Stand By Me”, which is performed twice – isn’t even a Drifters song.
Really, The Drifters Girl is less about the band itself than Faye Treadwell (played by queen of soul Beverley Knight), the woman who became their manager following the death of her husband in 1967. Faye’s own story is held up as an inspiration, how one woman took on the music industry in the face of excessive racism and sexism. The revolving door of members (Wikipedia lists 66 different Drifters performing with the group from 1953 to 2015) is presented as a shrewd business move from Faye and her husband, rather than a slightly soulless branding exercise.
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