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Posted on Tue 02 Jan
Iconic American doo-wop and R&B/soul stars The Drifters scored hit after sensational hit with songs including Under The Boardwalk, Saturday Night At The Movies and Stand By Me.
Now, critically acclaimed musical The Drifters Girl is paying tribute not only to the group but also to the woman behind their success: Faye Treadwell... What’s On recently caught up with Carly Mercedes Dyer, who will be playing Faye when the show visits the Midlands this month...
What attracted you to The Drifters Girl, Carly?
I saw it in London because I knew most of the cast. I thought it was such a slick show. I knew the vocals would be amazing, because you know what your friends can do, but they absolutely blew me away. They showed me so much more than I already knew that they could do. I also thought that Faye Treadwell would be a great part to play because her story is so interesting.
How would you describe Faye and her role in the story?
She's tenacious, groundbreaking, hugely intelligent and resilient. If there wasn't a Faye Treadwell, there wouldn't really be The Drifters because they would be a new iteration. They'd be some sort of tribute band, but she persevered and kept everything going. She kept them at the top of their game and fresh. The show is about this woman who took on an industry which didn't have women in managerial positions, and because she was the first African American female manager, she was constantly overlooked and undermined. That's crazy when you consider all the things she did. Why would you keep undermining her and overlooking her?
Can you relate to her in any way?
One hundred per cent. In our industry sometimes people go “Oh okay, that's what you do,” and they want to keep you in a specific box. But I like to do things that scare me and push me out of my comfort zone. I never just rest on my laurels.
What challenges does the role present for you?
Following in the footsteps of Beverley Knight is a pretty big challenge. It's really overwhelming, but at the same time she’s been a really good friend since I was in the show Memphis with her. So I thought “At least you've got her on your side.” And also, I'm a completely different person. I'm not Beverley Knight, I'm not Felicia Boswell [who took over from Knight in the West End] - I am Carly Mercedes Dyer, and I'm gonna give you my spin on it. That's the challenge. Plus, it's also one of those shows where you don't really leave the stage - and if you are offstage, you're getting changed and hoping that there's a swig of water for you somewhere!
Were you already familiar with the story that inspired the show?
No, I just knew the songs and often I didn't realise it was The Drifters singing them. Seeing the show really opened my eyes and made me think “Oh my word, this woman was the backbone of The Drifters!” She made them who they were and created a legacy both for herself and the group.
Do you think she was ahead of her time?
Absolutely. As an African American woman in the record business, she was groundbreaking. And to persevere when people always keep telling you 'no' and shutting down your ideas takes a lot of resilience. She really was ahead of her time because she could’ve just given up and gone home.
Do you have a favourite number in the show?
I really enjoy Save The Last Dance For Me because you can tell the boys really enjoy it when they're dancing. You can see that they're having a great time, and you're thinking that you're in the club with them. And with the opening medley, I think “Wow what a way to start the show!” My own solo numbers are a big challenge vocally, but I especially enjoy performing Harlem Child because it’s so emotive. The music in this show is amazing, and it's all about nostalgia. When people come and see it, they go “Oh my goodness, I remember hearing this!” There's a feelgood quality to it, as well as moments where you think “I'm having one of those days where I need a good old cry.” There's something for everyone.
What first led you into performing?
My friend went to dance classes when we were in nursery school, so I wanted to go too. I was painfully shy, so dance and drama were about the social aspect of it and having an emotional outlet. I really caught the bug from doing am-dram - the dressing up and being able to express myself through different characters. One of my first jobs was High School Musical at Hammersmith Apollo. It was insane because it was more like an arena than a theatre, but it was amazing.
What have been your musical theatre highlights so far?
I can pick a few because I feel like I've been really spoiled. I think one of my proudest jobs was definitely Memphis because it was such an ensemble piece. The skillset and the talent in that show was unreal. Chicago was my first West End job, and that was incredible - getting to work with such a vast group of talented people. When I did the concert version of Gypsy, I felt like I'd won a competition because we had seven Mama Roses, and to be in a room with such formidable women and learn from them was unreal. Then doing Anything Goes was also a huge highlight because it got such a great response from the audience. To get an Olivier nomination [for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical] was amazing.
What are you most looking forward to about touring the country with The Drifters Girl?
I'm looking forward to seeing how each city responds. I know they’re going to be blown away by the magnitude of the talent of the company because our Drifters are something else. I just don't know how they find these people, who have the vocal range and the acting ability to put on so many different hats. The cast is incredible, and the buzz from the audience is going to be electric. They're in for a great time. I also hope they come away knowing more about who the backbone behind The Drifters was and how much tenacity went into keeping them going. Faye had such a great heart, such great commitment and resilience.
The Drifters Girl shows at the Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, from Tues 16 to Sat 20 January, and then at Birmingham Hippodrome from Tues 16 to Sat 20 April
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