When The Drifters came into Sarah Martin’s drama school to do a music masterclass she never imagined it would lead to her starring in a musical about their life.
The Wearside performer caught the ear of the band after being asked to perform backing vocals in the masterclass, and now the 21-year-old’s joining the Motown hit makers in her first major production.
Stand By Me charts the musical history of a group that helped to define Atlantic Records, inspired early rock and roll and were a forerunner to both the black music movement in 1950s America and early Motown.
The new production, which is touring the country ahead of its West End debut, stars former members of The Drifters, Michael Williams and Ryan King.
Sarah, from Mount Pleasant, plays a number of roles in the musical as it follows The Drifters from the early days of the 1940s through to the present day.
The former Biddick School pupil said: “Stand By Me is all about the music of Ben E King and The Drifters and charts the band’s career from the 1940s to the present day. The band has had 65 members over six decades and with all those line-up changes it’s made for a lot of highs and lows, deaths and achievements.
“It’s been compared to The Jersey Boys because it looks at the history and life of the band. The industry was both cruel and kind to them. There were hard times and funny times. For the fans it’s great for them to be able to learn about what went on behind the scenes.”
The musical is a dream come true for Sarah, who was spotted when former members of the band did a masterclass at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, where she was studying her craft. She went on to support The Drifters in their 2015 tour and is now hoping to make it to the West End with the musical version of the band’s story.
“That era in music was such an interesting and important time with the rise of Motown,” she explained.
“It’s an era that’s still influential today. A lot of my friends didn’t think they’d know any of the music before they came along, but they knew them all, it’s music that crosses generations.
“There’s some huge hits from that era and we also sing other tracks from the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys.”
Speaking about her role, she said: “I’m one of four girls who accompany the band on their journey, in different roles. It starts in the 1940s.
“The first drifter Clyde McPhatter grew up as choir boy in a baptist church and he goes on to meet Patty Andrews of The Andrews Sisters.
“Then it goes into the military call-up period and we play their wives and girlfriends, which portrays the heartbreak they faced trying to juggle being on the road with their relationships.
“Then it goes through to the 60s and 70s when we play Martha and the Vandellas and a CBS reporter, right through to the modern day, so there’s some great costume changes.
“Barack Obama’s election even features as that was a really pivotal moment for The Drifters. After living through segregation and discrimination they never thought they’d see the day a black president was elected.”
The fast-moving show features some of the band’s greatest hits including Under The Boardwalk, Save The Last Dance For Me, Saturday Night At The Movies, Up On The Roof, Can I Take You Home Little Girl, Love Games, There Goes My Baby, Dance With Me, Sweets For My Sweet, There Goes My First Love, When My Little Girl Is Smiling, On Broadway, Money Honey and more.
The tracks saw the act become one of the biggest-selling, longest-serving bands of all, selling 214 million singles and more than 114 million albums worldwide.
Sarah says the date at the Empire is particularly special.
“I used to go to the Empire all the time when I was growing up,” she recalls. “It was there I had my first taste of theatre, it’s what made me want to go to dance and drama school.
“I was in various drama schools and we would do shows at the Empire and it was that that made me realise it was the career path I wanted to take. This will be the first time I’ve performed there in a professional production and it feels like a huge achievement. Seven or eight years ago I’d have been watching a show like this from the stalls and now I’m in it.”
•We’ve teamed up with the Empire to give away a pair of tickets to Stand by Me on Saturday, June 3.
To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question: Which of these was a Drifters hit?
A) Under the Boardwalk
B) Under the Sidewalk
C) Under the Bridge
Email your answer to the question and full contact details, including daytime telephone number, to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk
Closing date: Wednesday, May 31.
The show will be at the Sunderland Empire for one night only and the winner will need to be available to collect their tickets from the box office in High Street West on the night of the show, prior to the performance.