'Stand By Me' is possibly the most recognised title of a song recorded by Ben E.King which went onto being surprisingly, the only number one hit in the US (1961) for King and tonight opened the show to an appreciative audience. What a start! Fabulous vocals from all in particular Michael Williams, Ryan King and Davinia Thomas in this gospel church choir scene which continued throughout the whole show along with the other members of The Drifters.
The stage is set with the four piece band elevated on either side of a staircase with the two drums/ percussion below. With the lighting effects and smoke they are pretty much obscured from view for a lot of the time but their presence is certainly known with a fabulous sound recreating the many hits of King and the Drifters from the 1950's until present day and they are very much an essential part of the show. I particularly love the saxophone and was not disappointed tonight. There is also projected images at the back of the stage which did not really add much more than spinning record labels and occasional obituaries and more use could have been made of these to compliment the performers.
Stand By Me is a tribute to Ben E. King who performed in his own band the Five Crowns who all became the Drifters in 1958 when the original Drifters were all fired by their manager George Treadwell and signed up to Atlanta records. King fronted the Drifters for 2 years and then left to pursue a solo career staying with Atlanta. The Drifters are also represented in this show which takes us a journey highlighting their rise through the years of Rock n Roll, Disco, Soul and the difficulties of a young black group in 1950's Harlem, the challenges of leaving families behind as their career took them to different parts of the world, often leading to members leaving the group and being replaced.
This is an actual musical revue rather than the usual straightforward tribute as the audience are not addressed by the performers and as such the connection with the audience was different and the joining in with the songs and clapping was a little slow on the uptake initially, but by the end of the evening had everyone up and dancing in the aisles. The show has a recorded narration between songs but unfortunately some of the dialogue was difficult to follow, partly due to the deep American accent but mainly as it started whilst the audience were still applauding the artistes and could not be heard above.
A trio of ladies in 50's fashion followed with 'In The Mood' and treated us to several more numbers during the evening with songs through the decades which they performed brilliantly and always with great dance routines, however, on occasion as dancers they accompanied The Drifters and they were sometimes a distraction during these routines and I felt the show did not need this. Female vocalist Davinia Thomas gave an absolute stunning performance each time she appeared and it is no surprise to hear she grew up within a gospel background and has recorded on several gospel albums.
There are an incredible amount of songs crammed into this fast moving two hour show and feature all the favourites including 'Save The Last Dance For Me', 'Come On Over To My Place' and 'Like Sister and Brother' and so many more that the performers barely pause for breath!
Stand By Me is full of incredible talent and for a night of indulgent nostalgia well worth seeing.
Reviewer: Lorna Weekes
Reviewed: 9th April 2017
North West End Rating: ★★★★