Buddy

Alan Janes
Buddy Worldwide Ltd by arrangement with Maria Elena Holly
Theatre Royal Plymouth

Thomas Mitchells (Big Bopper) Alex Fobbester (Buddy Holly) Jordan Cunningham (Ritchie Valens) Credit: Image library

It’s 28 years now since Buddy first bounced onto the boards and it remains as fresh and popular as ever.

Constrained by the episodic nature of any biographic account, Alan Janes manages to—just—avoid the jukebox musical trap by flipping between radio output, concerts and studio time while the epic Surf Ballroom’s Winter Dance Party rerun engulfs almost all the second half.

The salient moments of Holly’s two golden years in the limelight are played out with an unrecognisable Alex Fobbester (Glen Joseph on other nights) as the gawky, bespectacled but feisty rocker whose iron will is matched only by his self-belief (and his mother’s insistent checking he has eaten).

Fobbester can most definitely play and sing although his somewhat Peter Kaye/Eric Morecambe hybrid expressions and demeanour is a tad off-putting as the docu-drama unfolds to its inevitable tragic close.

The songs are all there—from "Rose of Texas" through "That’ll Be The Day" and "Peggy Sue" to "Oh Boy" and "Chantilly Lace"—and a few extras thrown in for a great sing- and bop-along at the end: "Johnny B Goode" being a perennial favourite and a dead cert to get everyone on their feet and in position for a standing ovation.

Matt Salisbury directs a talented cast whose musical ability is impressive with double bass contortionist Joe (Joe Butcher) and bass player Matthew Quinn eye-catching despite the sound being somewhat two-dimensional but no one seems to care when there is a whole two hours plus of familiar tunes and plenty of opportunity for foot tapping, shoulder dancing and whisper-singing.

The Snowbirds’ '50s hand-jiving and choreographer Miguel Angel’s slinky swing are surpassed only by the filthy-hipped Richie Valens (Jordan Cunningham)’s shimmying and high-kicks.

Thomas Mitchell struts his stuff as The Big Bopper, all brothel creepers, leopard skin and attitude; there are plenty of harmonies as dated radio adverts and a slapstick a capella intersperse the action but disappointingly there’s not quite enough nastiness from Norman Petty (Alex Tosh) and his keyboard aficionado wife Vi (Celia Cruwys-Finnigan).

It is what it is, still packs them in and few leave disappointed.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell