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Review: The Drifters Girl Wales Millennium Centre 2024

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

A cast of 6 delivers a soulful performance depicting of the highs and lows of the life of the woman behind The Drifters.

Cardiff is the last stop in the tour for this production, and I think the wait was worth it. The show took a few beats to find its feet, but it soon got into the groove with a stellar cast and outstanding production. The Drifters Girl tells the true story of the world’s first African American female music manager, Faye Treadwell, and how she fought to turn the group into a global success. The tale is told as if to her daughter and chronicles three decades of Faye’s life and the group she loved.

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

The initial visuals of a bare stage belied the energy the minimalist cast would bring to the whole show. Faye meets Treadwell who spots her talent and offers her the chance of a lifetime to move to New York, and become not just a secretary, but the tenacious manager of the Treadwell Drifters. During the first half we cantered through the different group members as conscription, alcohol and opportunity forced changes in the line-up. The kinetic energy the actors brought to the performance was mesmerising and the clever set design left the audience with no doubt what was going on and who the characters were.

The four male actors all played multiple parts with simple costume changes reflecting the passing years. Quirky props and a plethora of accents made the production feel vast. Miles Anthony Daley (The Voice UK) played the other half of the Treadwell management, George Treadwell showcasing an impressive vocal range. The rest of the line-up was portrayed by Ashford Campbell (9 to 5 The Musical, Dreamgirls, Beautiful), Daniel Haswell (Motwown: The Musical, The Book of Mormon) and Tarik Frimpong (The Wiz, Aladdin) playing original Drifter frontman Clyde McPhatter. Perhaps the interchangeable male characters reflected the transient nature of many of The Drifters themselves.

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

To contrast with the ever-shifting male characters the character of Faye was steadfast and constant. The powerhouse performance from Carly Mercedes Dyer (Anything Goes), showed the bravery of the real-life Mrs Treadwell. This show holds up a mirror to the racial politics and gender inequalities faced by black females in the music industry then, and sometimes, sadly, now.

The cast was completed by Jaydah Bell-Ricketts (A Little Princess, School of Rock, Bugsy Malone) playing Girl, the Treadwell’s daughter. Her presence on stage did sometimes feel a little out of place, especially at the start, but later served to highlight the balancing act of work and family that Faye Treadwell navigated throughout her career.

Jaydah Bell-Ricketts as Girl

The set design and staging deserve a special mention for the use of video and transporting the audience through vast venues with huge audiences to Grand Central Station, a London taxi and British hotel receptions.

Unfortunately, there was a medical emergency in the crowd causing a pause in the show, but the cast recovered well and their rendition of Stand By Me re-energised the audience and we did indeed stand by them. This musical performance is packed with well-known numbers and hits you didn’t know you knew, including Save The Last Dance For Me, Under The Boardwalk, Kissin In The Back Row Of The Movies, Come On Over To My Place and Saturday Night At The Movies. By the end of the performance a lot of the crowd were on their feet, with plenty dancing and some even attempting a waltz between the rows of seats.

As someone who knew very little about The Drifters before seeing this show, the Treadwells clearly stayed true to their management ethos – the players might change, but they’ll always be The Drifters. They faced legal challenges and heartbreak as well as hit records, but Faye Treadwell refused to give up. This production is a testament to her determination, tenacity and bravery.

Tickets are on sale at the Wales Millennium Centre from 7 – 11 May 2024 and can be found here.