This colourful portrayal of Rock n Roll’s original musical icon is an excellent introduction to the short, but great, life of Buddy Holly.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story retells the events of the musical icon’s rapid rise to fame and his final legendary performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, before his untimely death at the age of 22 alongside Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. In little over a year and a half, Texas-born Buddy transformed the make-up of contemporary music, inspiring everyone from John Lennon to Eric Clapton.
It’s apparent from the minute I start to wade through the crowds of theatre go-ers in the foyer of Kings Theatre that Buddy’s fan base has continued to grow and grow since first opening its doors in London, 1989. This same audience can be heard singing along throughout – being the type of soundtrack that is full to the brim with tunes you probably didn’t know where from, such as That’ll Be the Day, Peggy Sue, Shout and the infectious La Bamba.
Having always held a deep fascination for the plane crash that robbed Buddy of his life on the 3rd of February 1959 – a day which Don McLean famously cited as “the day the music died” in his song – I was eager to see how the show would convey his death on stage.
Having spent the majority of the second act morphing into the all-singing, all-dancing audience that would have been present at Buddy’s final performance at the Surf Ballroom while the cast cleverly recreated the momentous event on-stage, it was hard to remember that our joy would be short-lived.
A black stage featuring a spotlight on Buddy’s iconic Gibson J-45, the silence of the auditorium was pierced by a recreation of the radio broadcast announcing the fatal accident – a very sensitive and poignant conclusion for our loving protagonist whom we had all very much got attached to.
The wonderful Glen Joseph brought Buddy to life on stage (a role which is shared with Alex Fobbester). He magnificently captured the nervous, often dorky, quirks that Buddy notorious for. And, with a pair of black-rimmed spectacles on his face, his resemblance to the star is uncanny.
Joseph and Fobbester are supported by a multi-talented cast of live instrumentalists, singers and dancers – including Buddy’s famous side-kicks, The Crickets, brought to life by Josh Haberfield and Joe Butcher – who collectively keep the audience laughing and singing throughout. Although, despite being filled with 1950s hit-after-hit, the show itself is a little slow moving and does noticeably lack energy in some places.
For a star who barely crossed the starting line of what would have been a long and rewarding career, I feel some comfort in knowing that his legacy continues somewhere in a little corner of musical theatre.