T the idea behind this musical is to show off the powerful female force that has led the all-male vocal group the Drifters. Faye Treadwell became one of the first prominent African American women to enter music management and led the group to greatness with business acumen and determination.
The music for the show is a triumph - how can you not be with the all-powerful voice of Beverley Knight? There are four other amazing voices in band members Adam J Bernard, Tarinn Callender, Matt Henry, and Tosh Wanogho-Maud. Their covers of songs such as Under the Boardwalk, Save the Last Dance for Me, and Sweets for My Sweet are reminders of the band's vocal heritage and timeless appeal.
But this show, directed by Jonathan Church, relies too much on this catalog of songs, which compromises the narrative journey and emotional strength. Ed Curtis' book features small-sized scenes with crisp, bland sound bites. We meet Faye when George Treadwell, the group's manager, offers her a new path. "I only answer mine on the phone," she told him, refusing to be his secretary. She becomes co-manager, his wifeand ultimately sole manager after her death in 1967.
Knight wows us with each issue and there is a particularly inventive interpretation of Ben E King 's Stand By Me Her character takes on a sexist industry that demeans and pats her on the butt, recreates the group as a brand ( "like the Yankees ") and she obtains the rights to the Drifters' name in a major court case.
But much of his personal history - including his life before he met George - is ignored. While she intermittently talks about her past to her daughter (Savanna Musoni) it is too obviously a narrative device and one has the strange impression of never knowing Faye, yet so present on stage.
The show runs through the group's formations in a dizzying way (unsurprisingly given that it had more than 60 members over 60 years). It is a reliefnt when you get to the four central members who run this show but they never feel distinct in themselves. Still, Bernard, Callender, Henry and Wanogho-Maud bring an irresistible charisma to the songs.
A music stand is often moved on stage with Faye or George behind, suggesting that 'this is a production more preoccupied with business decisions than with emotional drama. Racial discrimination is addressed, both in the southern states of the United States and in Britain when Treadwell faces the 'No Dogs No Blacks No Irish' era, but these scenes are presented as brief sketches.
The runway looks, at least, with its ultra-stylish costumes and bespoke dresses (Knight's wardrobe, designed by Fay Fullerton, is to die for). Anthony Ward 's sleek ensemble, lit by Ben Cracknell, combines with Andrzej Goulding ' s video design to wearthe aesthetic of a music video or concert.
For fans of the Drifters, the music itself may be enough, but for those who come, the story of this show is neither convincing nor clear enough.