Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story

Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson
Theatre Royal Bath

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A J Jenks as Buddy Holly Credit: Rebecca Need-Menear
Joe Butcher as Joe B Mauldin, Christopher Chandler as J P Richardson ‘The Big Bopper’, Miguel Angel as Ritchie Valens and Josh Haberfield as Jerry Allison Credit: Rebecca Need-Menear
Joe Butcher as Joe B Mauldin, A J Jenks as Buddy Holly and Josh Haberfield as Jerry Allison Credit: Rebecca Need-Menear

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story has been a mainstay in theatres across the UK—and out further—for longer than this reviewer has lived. While that’s not uncommon for a large chunk of musicals out there, this two-act show certainly captures a period of time for a specific audience. It echoes an era for nostalgic feelings of listening to rock 'n' roll on radios in bedrooms of the youth generations before; decades preceding 50-inch televisions and games consoles becoming mainstays in children’s rooms.

The Day the Music Died, as Don McLean so famously put it, is front and centre in Alan Janes’s Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story—and the 18-month build up to that fatal day. Buddy Holly, an atypical rock star, is now lauded by all of those we hold up in high regard—Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Keith Richards, to name just a few. But how does Janes’s work stack up 34 years on from making its debut on the West End?

From Holly’s infancy on the music scene, to his famous performance with the Crickets at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York, it’s a whistle-stop tour of his rise to the top.

The role of Holly is alternated between A J Jenks and Christopher Weeks on the tour, likely down to the two-and-a-half-hour demands, with the former donning the famous specs at Theatre Royal Bath. Weeks takes on the less-straining role of Cricket Niki Sullivan here. The duo are joined by Joe Butcher and Josh Haberfield as the remaining Crickets, bassist Joe B Mauldin and drummer Jerry Allison, respectively. Thomas Mitchells rounds out the main cast as hometown DJ Hipockets Duncan. A cast of actor-musos is what really ignites the production here.

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story feels the equivalent of modern-day cult favourite Heathers—but for OAPs. That aforementioned nostalgia kicks in at the maiden strum of Holly’s guitar right until the curtain drops. The sound engineered is flawless and crisp, and is aided by the strength of the musicians on display with playful performances with their instruments, including some deft skills from Butcher with the double bass.

The structure of the musical is odd. Whether it has a strong enough narrative can be questioned, and it resonates more like a concert in the second half. There are some similarities to the modern jukebox musical of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, but it doesn’t quite land a story in the same way.

Is it a musical, tribute act or concert? At the end of the day, it’s a romp from start to finish. Feet-tapping aplenty. Jenks’s showmanship really cuts through and is every bit a rockstar on stage.

Reviewer: Jacob Newbury

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