Review: The Drifters Girl at Newcastle Theatre Royal
The Drifter’s Girl – Newcastle Theatre Royal
15th November 2023
The Drifter’s Girl returned with some style to The Theatre Royal in Newcastle where it made it’s world premiere a couple of years ago starring Beverley Knight as the eponymous lead. I saw that production and anyone taking on this challenging role has some seriously big shoes to fill. Carly Mercedes Dyer did just that as the feisty and no nonsense impresario Faye Treadwell. Her vocals were outstanding and she more than made the stage her own this evening in a performance that had the audience, quite rightly, on their feet at the end of the show.
The Drifter’s Girl tackles some weighty topics including racial prejudice, homosexuality, the death of a loved one and substance abuse in a way that is sensitive and not judgmental in any way allowing the audience to make their own minds up as to how they may feel about them which is testament to the writing skills of Ed Curtis and the rest of the creative team behind the story which was suggested by Tina Treadwell, daughter of the titular lead.
The lighting designed by prolific LX guru Ben Cracknell is as exquisite as it is subtle in places. Cracknell really brings the era in which the story is set to life with his deft touch and some delicate mood changes. The set which is mainly automated is superb with delightful changes which fit seamlessly into the story. There are some additional props which make up the offices and the bars in which the characters interact and it flows beautifully from one scene to the next and even with a show stop this evening due to a medical emergency for around 5-10 minutes – you would have been hard pressed to notice the join as the action restarted.
Given the name of the piece, you do not need more than one shot at guessing the music that makes up this story and while it could be described as a jukebox musical, all the famous songs from The Drifters blend into the action and are a joy to listen to from the opening number to the rapturously appreciated ‘megamix’ at the end. The end of Act One is particularly hard-hitting, dramatic and breathtakingly stunning.
Each and every person on the stage works incredibly hard with most of the boys multi-roling a variety of characters in many different accents (especially UK ones) which adds a comedic element to the scenes in the second half when the boys are travelling around our sceptred Isle.
This is a reasonably accurate account of The Drifters from their formation through the various line ups that have made up the soul sensations over the years – a number which at last count has over 100 alumni. There are also some interesting names that have been associated with The Drifters over the years which only adds to the intrigue of the story.
No musical would be complete without some incredibly talented musicians and to a person the orchestra led by Dustin Conrad are exceptional. Again, I would prefer not to single anyone out but Dan Booth on guitar made me sit up in my seat on several occasions this evening with his soulful harmonies. The entire orchestra is to be commended on a superb job wonderfully executed.
The vocals from the boys are simply wonderful throughout this production but I have to single out the performance of Tarik Frimpong who lived and breathed his many roles and lit up the stage whenever he was on. He is clearly living his best life in the roles he plays in this production and his enthusiasm and presence it as commendable as it is inspiring. That is not to say that the other boys do not work just as hard but Frimpong stood out for me as an exemplar of being present on a stage and the twinkle in his eye as he played his various roles just made me smile.
As a North East born and bred lad, I am immensely proud that this musical made its world debut in the beautiful city of Newcastle and I know that the north east always welcomes the music from these very talented boys with open arms and a great fondness.
The Drifter’s Girl plays at The Theatre Royal, Newcastle until Saturday 18th November and I have no hesitation to recommend it in the most glowing of terms. Congratulations to all the cast, musicians, creatives and everyone involved with this wonderful and uplifting production.
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