The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens at the fateful Clear Lake concert
Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story
The New Alexandra Theatre
First staged in 1989 at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre, The Buddy Holly Story could be said to be the Godfather of the Jukebox musical.
There’s no denying the excitement this talented company generate delivering more than 20 of Buddy’s most cherished works. The show tells the story of his rise to fame, lifting himself from the constricting hold of country music to demand the freedom of expression in order to bring rock and roll to the USA and beyond.
The show is inevitably slow to start as we begin back in the radio days, setting the scene for the formation of his band The Crickets.
By the time we reach his first proper recording session, we are only teased with the openings of several pre recorded tracks, as the drama is focused on the developing story rather than the music.
It felt rather frustrating as just as the audiences hopes were raised the music faded into conversation. Just a few full performances of the songs here would have made all the difference.
Overall though it’s a well polished performance as expected, with Alex Fobbester capturing the spirit and sound of Buddy, if not exactly the likeness. With practically every member of the cast doubling up on roles or instruments it’s packed with talent. It’s great to hear songs like That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy and Buddy’s ballads like True love Ways played by this very competent company.
While the first half was more about the drama, the second act seemed to be more about what the audience had come to hear, the music. The story is a tragic one, as Buddy’s fame was a mere 18 months before his tragic death just after his final legendary performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.
When the show reached this point, the curtain came down for some `in front entertainment ‘featuring the very funny Matthew Quinn as the Clearlake MC. Then the stage was revealed in a blaze of silk drapes and colour for a spectacular foot tapping finale.
Alongside Buddy was The Big Bopper played by Thomas Mitchells singing a great version of Chantilly Lace and Ritchie Valens. played by Jordan Cunningham, showing off his outrageous dance moves to his banging performance of La Bamba.
It can’t be denied that this show is great success, but it remains unknown how long the music of Buddy can attract an audience in this format. There is a great deal to warm to, for what was largely a senior audience on the night. You can imagine the joy at hearing these songs played so well which, for the older ones amongst us, was the pop music of their youth.
The company touched a very emotional end note at the close of the show. With a solitary guitar left on stage, a voice over tells of the sad news of Buddy’s and his friend’s deaths. Then an unmistakable opening guitar riff burst out from behind the curtain which then lifted. Then in turn the roof was raised for a raucous, full company version of the late Chuck Berry’s best loved song, Jonny B Goode
It was a very fitting endnote to close an evening of glamorous rock and roll nostalgia and long may it continue. To 01-04-17