See it at Curve until November 4.
Direct from the West End, The Drifters Girl comes to Curve as part of a major UK tour.
Following in the footsteps of Beverley Knight and Felicia Boswell as Faye Treadwell in The Drifters Girl is a daunting prospect for Carly Mercedes Dyer. "But I love a challenge," says the Olivier Award nominee, "and I'm a completely different person. I'm not Beverly Knight, I'm not Felicia Boswell, I'm Carly Mercedes Dyer and I'm gonna give you my spin on it."
Fresh from a run in London's West End, where it played to packed houses and standing ovations nightly, the musical is embarking on a UK and Ireland tour as it brings the story of the legendary vocal group and the woman who helped turn them into global superstars to audiences around the country.
Carly, who was up for an Olivier as Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical for her rave-reviewed turn in Anything Goes, saw the show in London and was intrigued to learn about Faye, who managed The Drifters through the highs and lows of chart-topping hits and sold-out tours as well as multiple line-up changes and legal battles, and who gave them a second career when she moved the band to the UK in the early 1970s.
"She was tenacious, hugely intelligent and resilient," the 36-year-old actress marvels. "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."
Does she think Faye, who bought out her partners and took over management of The Drifters full time after her husband George passed away in 1967, was ahead of her time? "Absolutely. As an African-American woman in the record business she was groundbreaking and to persevere when people keep telling you 'no' and shutting down your ideas takes a lot of resilience. She really was ahead of her time because she could have easily just given up and gone home."
After graduating from The Arts Educational School, Carly made her debut in High School Musical and has been in numerous shows since, including Chicago, Memphis (opposite Beverley Knight), Dreamgirls, Sweet Charity, West Side Story and Six. She finds her latest role relatable, since Faye refused to conform. "I can relate to that 100% because in our industry sometimes people go 'Oh okay, that's what you do' and they want to keep you in that 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.
Treadwell's husband George is played on tour by Miles Anthony Daley, who hails from Hackney and whose previous credits include Tina - The Tina Turner Musical and Choir of Man. He sees the character as a commanding one. "But what I like about George is that in areas where you think his life is very black-and-white, actually there's a lot of grey. It's really interesting to explore that space in the middle where he's opening himself up to become a better version of himself."
Like the other male leads, 30-year-old Miles has various other roles throughout the course of the show and says: "It's a balancing act but as an actor it's fun to be able to show all the different strings to my bow."
He feels audiences are in for a treat. "There are a lot of ups and downs, there's a lot of joy and there's a lot of triumph, there's a lot of drama and the band's story is really interesting. Plus of course it's full of fantastic music. This is my first UK tour and I'm so excited about taking it to audiences around the country." He smiles. "I'm going to have to stock up on the on the Manuka honey, the vocal tablets, because you have to be really fit for a show like this."
Formed in 1953, The Drifters went on to sell more than 200 million singles, including such huge hits as Save The Last Dance For Me, Under The Boardwalk, Saturday Night At The Movies Kissin' In The Back Row Of The Movies and Come On Over To My Place, to name just a few. They've also sold more than 100 million albums worldwide and in 1988 they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by none other than lifetime fan Billy Joel.
The show demands a lot of its cast in general and of the foursome who play The Drifters in particular. Tarik Frimpong doesn't just play founder member Clyde McPhatter, he also plays the band's road manager Lover Patterson and a host of other characters.
The 29-year-old Australian, who now lives in London, was drawn to The Drifters Girl because of the multiple-role aspect of it. "And also, because it's so exciting to see an all-black cast on stage. I saw the show in London and seeing the performers play black characters, white characters, younger characters and older characters with all sorts of different accents seemed like a fun challenge."
Tarik knew many of the songs that are featured in the show, but he didn't know the story behind them until he saw the West End production. "It was so interesting to hear about Faye Treadwell's life and the role that she played in the group's history and success. It was amazing to hear about this African-American woman who lead this group of men on to become superstars."
Then there's the character of Clyde McPhatter, of whom he says: "Clyde was a pioneer of R&B and doo-wop and so many artists that came after him speak of him so highly as an idol."
Tarik's credits include Aladdin, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and The Lion King and he's a big fan of musical theatre, saying: "I love the escapism it provides for people to come in and forget about their lives for two hours. It's pure enjoyment, and in the case of The Drifters Girl, also educational. Hopefully after they leave the theatre, audiences will treat people with more empathy in their day-to-day lives."
Making his UK touring debut, Tarik smiles: "I feel like my true Australian nature will come out, travelling to so many places I haven't been to before. And I can't wait to see how audiences react to the show. The vocals are out of this world, if I say so myself, and the choreography is so slick and fast-paced. It's a learning curve as well as fantastic entertainment."
Jamaica-born Dalton Harris plays Drifters vocalists Johnny Moore and Gerhart Thrasher, among others, and is relishing the challenge. "The workload is incredibly heavy but it's also so inspiring," says the 28-year-old, who now lives in Yeovil. "It's the first big musical I've done and in fact I think this is the biggest project I've ever been involved with, and it's really pushing me as a performer. Every day when we leave rehearsals, I think 'Wow!' I keep surprising myself with how much I'm learning."
He's also learning about The Drifters and their place in music history. "I grew up on their music but I didn't know much about them as a band, the fact that there were so many of them over the years, their story and their legacy."
Having spoken candidly about his abusive childhood, Dalton saw singing as an escape. "Music was a way for me to leave my physical surroundings," he says. A teacher heard him sing and entered him into a talent contest, which he won. "And that was it. I started my career when I was ten and I've never stopped since."
Moving to the UK as a young adult, he auditioned for The X Factor in 2018 and went on to win. He enjoyed the experience but eventually decided the cutthroat music business wasn't for him. "I want to use my gift where it suits me best," he says, "so getting to do The Drifters Girl is like a dream come true."
Starring as the legendary Ben E. King is Ashford Campbell, who hails from Huddersfield. He describes the singer, who went on to have a monster hit with Stand By Me,as: "Very talented, ambitious and headstrong. I didn't actually know he was part of the Drifters up until I got the script. My dad was a singer when I was young and I grew up hearing songs like Under the Boardwalk and Stand By Me but I didn't know much about their personal stories or the collective story. I think that makes it really interesting for audiences as well as for us as performers."
Like Dalton, 31-year-old Ashford - whose other roles in The Drifters Girl include vocalist Rudy Lewis - came up through The X Factor. He was in boyband The Risk and admits: "Doing theatre is much harder. You're doing eight shows a week and you have to be at the same high level every time." Having been in 9 to 5: The Musical and Dreamgirls in the West End, he adds: "This is biggest thing I've taken on to date and it's challenging, but in all the best ways. I'm honing my craft and bettering myself every day, learning from the people around me and pushing myself to take risks on stage."
He toured with 9 to 5 and can't wait to get back out on the road. "Touring's great. It switches it up because you're in a different town or city every week. It's also nice to be able to take a show to people that can't necessarily get down to London to see it. Audiences are in for such a fun time, with lots of laughter, drama and emotion."
Completing the main cast is 18-year-old South East Londoner Jaydah Bell-Ricketts. She plays Faye's daughter (known simply as Girl in the credits) and describes the character as: "Very curious and very smart. She's quite sassy and she gives it back to her mum, which is fun to play. She's embarrassed about everything that her mum does but ultimately she's in awe of her."
Jaydah has been acting since she took weekend drama classes from age nine. A year later she was in a production of Bugsy Malone and she also appeared in School of Rock, all while doing her GCSEs and A-levels. The plan was to go to university. "But that can wait until next year," she smiles.
The youngster is understandably nervous about her first role as an adult. "It's huge and it's scary. It was very overwhelming when just before my 18th birthday I found out that I'd got the role but ultimately the excitement definitely trumps the nerves."
Jaydah is also excited about doing her first-ever tour. "I love travelling and I'm a really curious person, just like my character in the show actually. I haven't really ventured that much out of London before so I'm looking forward to meeting new people and seeing new places."
And she's got a great mentor in Carly Mercedes Dyer, enthusing: "Carly's incredible. She's so warm and welcoming, which is obviously great for me because the mother-and-daughter chemistry is there already. The advice she's given me so far is to just be myself, relax and enjoy it, and it's such a fun and freeing show."