We use cookies on this website to improve how it works and how it’s used. For more information on our cookie policy please read our Privacy Policy

Accept & Continue

Touring the country following a hugely successful West End run, new musical The Drifters Girl visits Birmingham this month. The show features the music of legendary doo-wop, soul & R&B group The Drifters and tells the story of Faye Treadwell, the woman who was the driving force behind their success. What’s On spoke to two of the show’s multi-talented cast to find out more...

The first incarnation of doo-wop quartet The Drifters formed in 1953, singing smooth harmonies and finding success in the US R&B charts. Since then, the group’s members have changed countless times, with dozens of singers taking a place in the lineup, but always singing under The Drifters name.

Enjoying hits with songs including Under The Boardwalk, Saturday Night At The Movies, Save The Last Dance For Me and Sweets For My Sweet, the group have secured a place in the history books. However, new musical The Drifters Girl - although paying homage to them - puts another, lesser-known character front and centre: their manager, Faye Treadwell.

The hit musical features a cast of only six performers on stage, meaning that a great deal of hat swapping - both literal and metaphorical - goes on throughout the show. Carly Mercedes Dyer plays Drifters Girl Faye, while Ashford Campbell plays a staggering 16 all-singing, all-dancing characters.

“She means business,” says Carly, in talking about Faye. “She has a quick wit - it’s amazing to have that lying underneath - but when she needs to be, she’s always switched on and coming up with new, inventive ideas. She’s a trailblazer. A pioneer.”

Faye resolutely carried the Drifters name forward, in the face of litigation, racism, sexism and wiley managers trying to pinch her singers. Ashford maintains that this legacy still has impact. “I think it's important for her to be recognised as the force that she was. I knew nothing about Faye coming in - it's an eye-opener. I think the music industry would be a lot different had it not been for people like her.”

The cast are in the unusual position of having met someone with first-hand experience of the story: Tina Treadwell, Faye’s daughter, who is played on stage by Jaydah Bell-Ricketts. Carly explains how valuable Tina’s input was. “She gave us so much information and so many little nuggets. She told us about when her mum went to London, and Tina got her first Go-Go Boots in Carnaby Street. I thought, ‘You’ve lived through all that!’ Every time you fill in the gaps with things you might not know about the character, you hope that it’s reaching the audience in a way that helps them relate to her.”

While Carly plays Faye from start to finish, she is surrounded by a whirlwind of characters: “The boys do such an exceptional job of morphing and being chameleons to become different people, even with just a small hat or glasses - they make my job really easy.”

They really do achieve the dreamy Drifters sound, and Ashford knows how much work it took in rehearsal.

“Oh god - a lot! We had about four or five weeks rehearsal together before we came on the road. I was actually a cover in the West End production, so I had a bit of past experience, but it's a different company so it's different voices. We still work on it every day but we're in a great place.”

Ashford explains how the whole company supports each other, with different actors taking the lead at different points in the narrative. “As much as it's a collective show, everyone has their moments to shine, which is lovely. There's no billing order to who's doing the most or singing the most. I think that's why we all bow together, because we all work so damn hard.”

As well as singing, the group perform a huge number of dance routines, choreographed by Karen Bruce and inspired by doo-wop bands of the era. “The Drifters weren't known for dropping to the splits and things like that, like we’re doing,” says Ashford, “but it's fun. It's very precise; every move has a purpose, and it looks so stunning. She's done a great job.”

One of Ashford’s favourite roles is young lead singer Rudy Lewis. “He's struggling with addiction, he's been out partying, and he's late to rehearsal and flustered. Then he starts singing Under The Boardwalk, and it's a bittersweet moment; he's turned up for work, he sounds beautiful, and he's surprised everyone yet again, but you see him struggling with his demons at the same time. It's hard to play but I love it.”

This part of the story also reveals Faye’s more nurturing side, in contrast with her usual sternness. This was particularly important to Carly. “One thing that I’m always trying to hone and fine tune is that she is a caring woman. That's what Tina said - Faye would come home, and as much as she was exhausted and would lie down for weeks on end, she was also really caring - not only for her Drifters but her daughter.”

Both Carly and Ashford connect their performances back to their own parents. In Carly’s case, parts of her role remind her - and her childhood neighbour, on watching  the show - of her own mother. “It’s an amazing experience, to know that the strong female character that I had in my life - that role model of my mum - is present in this part. That is so persistent, resistant and amazing.”

Meanwhile, Ashford follows in the footsteps of his father. “My dad was a singer - he’d sing at weddings and in clubs. He’d always drag me along and up on stage to sing with him - when I was about seven or eight - and I just loved it.

“My favourite song to perform is probably Under The Boardwalk. My dad used to sing it. He sang a lot of soul and Motown, so it feels like a full-circle moment for me. I think the arrangement is quite different from the original, and that's always exciting - to give people a new experience.”

The Drifters Girl is something more than a ‘jukebox musical’, with the songs inextricably linked into the group’s story. Carly points out that the show also tells a story about the hard work and graft which goes into creating something, which it’s easy to take for granted. “There’s so much in this world where you’re just seeing a finished product, or the people in the front, when there’s much more that goes on behind the scenes.”

The musical is also a testament to Faye’s character and drive, against all odds. “Faye has so much adversity, so much resistance,” says Carly. “In this day and age, when we’ve kind of progressed - and I say ‘kind of’; there’s so much more to be done - if we can all be a bit more like Faye, I believe we can move mountains and do so much more.”

Although the production has its thought-provoking moments, it is undeniably a feelgood and fabulous theatrical experience. Ashford’s favourite moment (of many) is the ‘mega mix’ medley at the end of the show. “It's the point where everyone's up on their feet, singing along and clapping. That's really fun - it's so nostalgic. People know the music and they're just dying to get involved - and here's your opportunity! You've got seven minutes to just sing, dance and scream along.”

The Drifters Girl runs at Birmingham Hippodrome from Tuesday 16 - Saturday 20 April.

By Jessica Clixby