Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story
New Wimbledon Theatre (On Tour)
24 January 2016
It’s been 28 years since Buddy burst onto the stage of the Victoria Palace Theatre (following a tryout in Plymouth), and now it’s back touring the UK produced by Alan Janes, the show’s writer. Arguably on the of the first hugely successful Jukebox musicals, it’s a look at the life and times of Buddy Holly from 1956 to 1959.
Alan Janes’ book has a lively pace that keeps the story interesting throughout, but Matt Salisbury’s direction lags a bit in places and technically some of the blackouts take a little too long.
What is disconcerting about this production is that it is obviously geared for budget touring. Following some of bigger productions into a space like the New Wimbledon, its scenic design is lacking somewhat. Designer Adrian Rees could have been given a slightly bigger budget to give this production a bit more oompf visually. However, a set does not a great night in the theatre make and that is certainly the case here.
Glen Joseph was playing Buddy at the performance I attended in Wimbledon. It’s an infectious performance that plays right to the back of the auditorium. Joseph is not quite as lanky as Buddy, but look beyond that and his musicianship and interpretation of the songs and the character is first rate.
Amongst the rest of the cast Jordan Cunnigham’s Richie Valens and Thomas Mitchells as the Big Bopper both channel the excitment and charisma of the originals, Kerry Low as Maria Elena Holly is just perfect in providing impetus for drama in the second act, Miguel Angel and Jordan Cunningham as two performers at the Apollo Theatre are a comic delight, as is Matthew Quinn’s frustrated Hipockets Duncan, who is perhaps the man most to thank for getting Buddy launched if the book of this musical is to be believed.
Ultimately, what kept me enthralled throughout the evening was the music. The spirit and the magic of Buddy’s music comes off the stage in waves and you really cannot help but be taken aback by its beauty and by the horrific loss of talent that the world suffered with his passing. In just three years Buddy delivered some of the most classic and impassioned music the world has known. Buddy’s music is beautifully performed by this cast and the Clear Lake Concert at the end of the evening was stunning with the audience on their feet throughout.
Overall, it was exciting to see an audience who was fully animated and having a good time throughout. I think the cast were caught a bit aback when it became clear the end that the audience were wanting more even after the staged curtain calls had concluded.
What is certain is that Don McClean certainly got it right with his line in American Pie when he called Buddy’s death “the day the music died”. Thankfully with Buddy, the legacy and love of that music continue.