The merry doo-wop beats of these slick Drifters Saturday night in theaters: PATRICK MARMION reviews

The Drifter’s Girl (Garrick Theatre, London)

Judgement:

The Drifters were a feel-good solution for a generation growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to toe-tapping tunes like 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 brave young “girl” from the title.

Treadwell ran The Drifters as a football club for nearly 50 years – first with husband George, then alone after his death – until her retirement in 2001.

Loved for their clear, doo-wop harmonies, the quartet has had nearly 40 members over the decades – the most famous being Ben E King.

The Drifters were a feel-good solution for a generation growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to toe-tapping tunes like Under The Boardwalk and Save The Last Dance For Me.  Now they're back in a musical tribute show at the Garrick Theatre

The Drifters were a feel-good solution for a generation growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to toe-tapping tunes like 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, fighting off attempts by some of those many, many former ‘Drifters’ to form rival bands.

Telling her story here to her young daughter Tina, Faye describes how she made her way into the man’s world of music production, recalls her ten-year marriage to George, and talks about the copyright disputes afterward.

Knight’s solo songs, performed in her rich gospel classic, chronicle Faye’s struggles as an Arkansas country girl with a banjo-twang accent trying to break through in the Big Apple.

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

But as much as we sympathize with Treadwell’s trials and tribulations as a woman of color in a racist, misogynistic world, what really gets the house going – if not Kissin’ In The Back Row – is the smooth and joyous romp of Knight’s four male co-stars through The The Songbook of Drifters.

In the tribute show, Beverley Knight stars as Faye Treadwell, the brave young

In the tribute show, Beverley Knight stars as Faye Treadwell, the brave young “girl” from the title. Treadwell ran The Drifters as a football club for nearly 50 years – first with husband George, then alone after his death – until her retirement in 2001

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

All four also serve cute cameos; from Callender’s self-assured Nat King Cole (whom Faye mocks that “it takes a ladder to get over himself”) to Wanogho-Maud’s lovely clumsy Rudy Lewis, who struggles with his homosexual sexuality.

Bernard plays it cool as husband George and there’s even a ‘nice to see you, to see you nice’ twist from Henry as Bruce Forsyth, when the band went to the London Palladium in the 1970s.

The sometimes serious mood improves every time the boys launch themselves into one of the big songs in Jonathan Church’s slick and hip production.

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

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

It’s impeccably drilled, with Karen Bruce’s feisty choreography synchronized to signature harmonies, shuffling percussion and honking brass.

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

Its sliding geometric-patterned panels and neon-lit lightsaber poles recreate the feel of the band’s album covers over the years.

So maybe it’s hard to get emotionally involved in Faye’s balance sheets and processes, but the silver heads bobbing in the stalls to the beat of the hits are a moving sight to behold.

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

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