Shine, sparkle, shimmer, and so much singing! Church’s interpretation of “The Drifters Girl”, as according to the real life tale, inspires an abundance of thrill and joy in the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield. Not only does this dazzling performance deal with the highs and lows of an all-black R&B quadruple fighting for fame in an unjust society; but also the the impact of interpersonal relationships within growing such an ever evolving musical group in 1950s New York.
The first thing to note about this new musical is the small cast of six talented actors. It quickly becomes evident that this piece of performative artwork is dosed with multi-rolling and collaborative story telling to fabricate a broken narrative, meaning everyone has several key roles in retelling the story of the Tradewell family. This theatrical decision weighed heavily on the performers’ abilities to simultaneously sing, dance, act and manipulate the set. And they did not fail.
The stupendous cast immediately bought an energy to the stage that had the audience fixated on the story. An interesting feature that emerged from using the technique of multi-rolling, was that the performance, at times, felt raw and real to the moment in the auditorium. Doing such alternates from a typical dramatic flow as directors are often drawn to playing a contemporary text in a ‘traditional’ manner. However, unrealistic moments of stylisation throughout the play enhanced the notion of story-telling through the eyes of the protagonist and the media at the time of the events.
Anthony Howard’s set design created a fabulous mock recording studio with soft-looking black squares, patterned along each stage flat. What stood out to me the most here was the minimalistic design allowing the actors and technicians to add temporary quirks (eg different studio names in projection) onto the walls so each scene had a slightly different set but the atmosphere of a recording studio, which conveyed the tone of the musical, but remained similar. On the contrary, the highly refined set structure began to feel stale towards the end of the second act, appearing as though the audience are trapped in this music studio with The Drifters. Therefore subtly removing the watcher’s ability to connect to the personal aspect of each members life as they disclosed information about struggles ‘behind the scenes’.
Costume design and execution was spectacular, with a special mention to the backstage crew and the cast for ensuring that each quick change was punctual and demonstrated with professionally eloquent presentation. Every costume colour, style and flare was visually attractive to a wide variety of audience members – this spectacular showcase certainly appeals to all ages. Under a critical lens, however, it stood out that that the character the ‘Girl’ remained in a pale pink dress from the very beginning until she was changed into a cocktail dress for the final number and curtain call. This stood out from the quick pace costume adaptations that the rest of the cast were involved in, possibly suggesting that the ‘girl’ had no character development.
Moving onto the lighting design, there was a captivating moth to a flame effect, where the audience’s eyes followed each perceptible glow stick like beam. These beams moved across stage to make amazingly alluring parrallels on stage. This was very effective to the simplistic set design. The only thing to comment on these artistic light features, is the overpowered light drawing attention from the actor’s performance, as seen in the England Hotels scene.
Carly Mercedes Dyer. Run to Sheffield to experience the heart shaking, unearthly heights of Miss Dyer’s beautiful voice. During her stage presence, the audience was wholly engaged by this actress’ mesmerising singing and acting quirks. Moreover, with great strength, the lead actress paved the way for her co-perfromers in her rendition of Faye Treadwell.
The perhaps challenging narrative roll of ‘Girl’ was executed well by actress Jaydah Bell-Ricketts. Whilst standing proudly on the bedazzled Drifter’s stage, Bell-Ricketts meticulously reacted to each moment of high emotion. She indicated a clear objective to act as the spokesperson of the audience, ensuring that though her use of proxemics and dialogue, she could drive the narrative pace of the piece.
George Treadwell, played by Miles Anthony Daley, erupted with an energy that perfectly mirrored the atmosphere of the textual content within this musical. Daley particularly stunned the audience with his ease in delivering a multitude of lines between singing and dancing. The actor had the capacity for a certain breath control that made it feel as though he really was in The Drifters!
From his first solo, Tarik Frimpong, portraying Clyde McPhatter, Lover Paterson and Others, established a powerful and heartfelt attitude towards his performance. Frimpong’s voice immediately shone above the live orchestra, sending chills down my spine. Approaching his character ‘Lover Patterson’ Frimpong’s body language and coded facial gestures communicated an in-depth depiction of gender power-play within the story of The Drifters.
A dynamic performance from Ashford Campbell, portraying the roles of Ben E King, Rudy Lewis and Others, showed that this voice changing magician reserves an outstanding ability to control his voice and recreate countless different dialects and stereotypical pitches. In doing so, the zestful performer added a delightful splash of comedy to the otherwise quite serious undertone of the play. It must also be highlighted that Campbell possesses a uniquely fluid attitude towards his body movement. He truly mastered every single beat of choreography.
With an acute awareness of his stage proxemics and in-character relations to those around him, Dalton Harris, representing Johnny Moore, Gerhart Thrasher and Others, exploded with passion for the musical numbers on stage. The depth of this excellent performer’s voice allowed him to support other performers even when he seemingly easily grappled with the difficulty of singing the lead at times.
The Drifters Girl plays at the Sheffield Lyceum until 30th September when it will continue on its UK tour.