Save the last dance for Beverley Knight, who has had a musical written for her — a rare honour these days — about the woman who saved The Drifters from drifting into oblivion
Save the last dance for Beverley Knight, who has had a musical written for her — a rare honour these days — about the woman who saved The Drifters from drifting into oblivion.
The chart-topping singer and actress will portray Faye Treadwell, who fought tirelessly to sanctify the group’s name.
‘You say the name The Drifters and the list of names of those who sang in the group goes on and on,’ Knight said.
Producer Michael Harrison, who developed the show The Drifters Girl with producing partner David Ian, explained that from the Fifties until the Eighties there were more than 60 singers associated with the R&B group. Every time someone left, they felt entitled to use the name for their own purposes.
Faye’s story begins with her being courted by George Treadwell, who acquired part ownership of The Drifters name in 1955 when original member Clyde McPhatter quit. Treadwell fired the remaining singers, hired the Five Crowns — including a smooth baritone by the name of Ben E. King — and rebranded them The Drifters.
Treadwell and Faye married, and after he died, his widow took over management. ‘She’d been a teacher,’ Knight told me. ‘She had no legal training, but she had common sense in spades, and wanted to see the legacy she’d started with her husband through to the end.’
And so Faye took on all the Drifter pretenders. ‘Faye took them to court,’ Knight said, observing that she was ahead of her time in understanding the value of intellectual property.
She soon toughened up. ‘She had no choice — she was going to be ripped off twice: she was black and she was female,’ Knight told me.
I met Mrs Treadwell once in New York, in the early Eighties. She was probably a foot shorter than me, but I could tell that she brooked no nonsense.
‘This is a story of a woman who is black — yes, it was a long time ago, but the social element, the prejudice, the bigotry still exist. Ultimately, though, this woman triumphs, so we can take hope from that,’ said Knight.
The singer won’t perform The Drifters’ (pictured) most famous singles. ‘People would be saying: “Why is Beverley Knight singing Save The Last Dance? Or Kissin’ In The Back Row Of The Movies? It would sound clunky,’ Harrison said
We were conversing at the Garrick Theatre, where The Drifters Girl, which will be directed by Jonathan Church and designed by Anthony Ward, will begin a 20-week run from October 1, 2020. (Prior to that, it will have a short ‘outta town’ tryout at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, starting on September 5.)
Harrison had the idea of having Ed Curtis write the book for The Drifters Girl after he met Faye’s daughter, Tina, who took over control of The Drifters enterprise after her mother died in 2011.
‘Tina related how her parents got together, and then the court cases, and how Faye spent the rest of her life keeping the group she loved together,’ he said. ‘There were all these comings and goings, but Faye was the glue.’
Now the show has bona fide soul with Ms Knight, whose terrific new album, BK25, from a live show at the Royal Festival Hall, is out on November 8. Both Harrison and Ian credit her with revitalising their musical The Bodyguard after she took over the title role six years ago.
The singer won’t perform The Drifters’ most famous singles. ‘People would be saying: “Why is Beverley Knight singing Save The Last Dance? Or Kissin’ In The Back Row Of The Movies? It would sound clunky,’ Harrison said.
But there are several other numbers that are just as potent — Harlem Child, Follow Me and the poetic Only In America. ‘Beverley will have those, and other songs,’ said Harrison.
Tickets go on sale from 10am today at thedriftersgirl.com
Hats off — Evan sings the blues!
Tuesday was Blue Hat Day at the Noel Coward Theatre.
The house’s new resident, Dear Evan Hansen, is bathed in a palette of blues. So producer, Stacey Mindich, established a tradition, in U.S productions, of giving light blue DEH logo baseball