Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story

Alan Janes
Alan Janes
The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story Credit: Rebecca Need-Menear

It’s back. Buddy is in the house and packing them in… again.

A perennial favourite, Alan Janes’s 30+-year-old just-shy-of-a-jukebox-musical, docudrama charts the gangly, bespectacled maverick’s iron-clad self-belief, his meteoric rise to fame, ground-breaking Apollo Theatre appearance and his far few months in the limelight.

With Thomas Mitchells (The Offensive’s Theo Clinton; Friendsical; Carmen 1808) ubiquitous as Narrator, KDAV DJ, Norman Petty, Murray Deutch and everyone else of stature, the tale is pacy, flitting between radio stations—complete with live-sung adverts and applause prompts—studios and concerts, but Tex-Mex rock aficionado Petty is rather let off the hook with a mere nod to his alleged duplicity and greed, while the reasons for Holly splintering away from him and the Crickets are unexplained.

A J Jenks (who swaps with Christopher Weeks on other nights) is a believable Buddy Holly, all gawk (the "sex appeal of a telegraph pole"), determination and song-writing brilliance. Ably supported by Joe Butcher (double bass contortionist Joe), Josh Haberfield (lovesick Jerry on the drums) and a high-kicking Niki (Weeks or Jenks), the live music passes muster and more. Sound production was a bit thin at times but stepped up for the second act Surf Ballroom’s Winter Dance Party rerun.

The particular delight is the live music, with a talented cast switching between keyboards and sax, double bass and guitar and plenty more.

Christopher Chandler struts his stuff as The Big Bopper, all brothel creepers, leopard skin and attitude; choreographer Miguel Angel is the performance-bombing Tyrone Jones and filthy-hipped Richie Valens, and Stephanie Cremona an accomplished celeste-playing Vi Petty.

There’s slapstick a capella, hand-jiving and pageant queen cringe; belters and harmonies and so, so much whisper-singing and shoulder dancing.

It is really all about the music and the oldies but goodies keep coming with 29 songs, mostly Buddy Holly hits ("Everyday", "Peggy Sue", "Words of Love", "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" etc etc) but with a few of contemporaries—"Reet Petite", "Shout" and "Chantilly Lace"—thrown in. Add "Johnny B Goode" and it’s a dead cert great sing- and bop-along finale.

The musical first opened here at Theatre Royal Plymouth in August 1989. Since then, there have been a record-breaking 4,668 performances over 580 weeks on tour in the UK and Ireland, as well as 5,822 performances over 728 weeks in London’s West End.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

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