A tale that can never fade away

Oh boy: Steve Dorsett as The Big Bopper, Roger Rowley as Buddy Holly and Miguel ANgel as Ritchie Valens

Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

YOU would probably learn more about Buddy Holly glancing through Wikipedia while listening to American Pie – but it wouldn't be anywhere near as much fun.

This is a night of pure nostalgia or, for younger members of the audience, an evening of discovery of a singer/songwriter who influenced pretty well every bar of rock and roll they have ever heard.

This show, which opened in 1989, was credited as being one of, if not the very first of the jukebox musicals w and is really little more than a vehicle to cram in as many Holly songs into two and a half hours as possible, linked by a few lines of script.

Indeed. by the second half it dispenses with the story pretty much altogether in favour of party as we join that final, fateful show at Clear Lake, Iowa.

Yes, the basics are there, how Buddy, from Lubbock, Texas, was signed by Decca but it didn't work out; how he worked with Norman Petty in his recording studio in Clovis New Mexico and became a star; how he married his Puerto Rican wife Maria Elena after dating her for just five hours; how he split with The Crickets who were happy in Texas while he wanted New York and of course that fatal plane crash – the day the music died. But there is an awful lot of poetic licence along the way.

But it is a fair few frets up the guitar neck from being just a mere tribute act and within the limited confines of a paper-thin script there are some fine performances.

Roger Rowley has the advantage that he looks somewhat like the rather nerdy Holly, the rocker who made glasses cool, and he manages the slightly gawky and awkward movements that were the unintentional trademark of Holly when he played – oh, and the lad also plays a mean Stratocaster.

Indeed this is the modern theatre where mere acting is not enough and half the cast have to be able to turn their hands equally to keyboards, guitars and drums and if you are not playing? - well you are backing singers.

Rowley produces a likeable Holly, and a respectful one as when he asks Maria Elena's aunt, played by Katia Sartini, for her niece's hand in marriage.

Felicity Chilver as Maria Elena, as with all the cast apart from Holly, has to play several roles which makes it more difficult to be believable and convincing in any one.

Roger Rowley bears a striking resemblance to Buddy Holly and manages a mean guitar with that authentic 50s Fender sound

We are never quite sure whether we are supposed to like her or not, the implication being that she perhaps was part of the reason Holly and The Crickets broke up, which was not true. She was pregnant when Holly died, incidentally, but miscarried soon after Buddy was killed in the crash.

Gary Trainor as Hipockets Duncan the local DJ and friend of Holly, is also seen as a big shot New York music executive but Trainor really comes into his own as the MC at the Clear Lake concert where he shows a fine turn of comedy as we get some acts which take you right back to small town America of the 50s US Mid-West.

Indeed the sets and costumes by Adrian Rees could have come straight from the pages of Norman Rockewell, from the radio ads for washing machines to the huge chrome mics and a world full of mic and guitar leads all over the stage at every recording and every concert.

And it is concerts that end each half. The first sees Holly at the famed Apollo Theatre, Harlem where Buddy was the first white act to appear there and they loved him. The claim of being first is much disputed with evidence of earlier white acts but it was still one of the earliest white performances at the all-black theatre and was still a brave one in the late 50s,  even though in reality it took a number of appearances there by Holly before the audiences really started to take to them.

It made a lifting finale before the interval though.

The second half ends with that final concert with Miguel Angel as the 17-year-old Ritchie Valens, and Steve Dorsett as The Big Bopper joining Holly for some of their own classics such as the Bopper's Chantilly Lace and Valen's La Banba

The plane crash is represented by a darkened stage empty apart from a microphone and Holly's battered acoustic guitar to the echoes of True Love Ways.

It is so simple, so effective and strangely moving leaving the mind to produce special effects way beyond the budget or indeed means of any show.

Not that that is the end though as Buddy raves on with the audience on their feet for another half dozen numbers.

It might not be much of a biography but it is great fun and Holly's music from an age of innocence still has a freshness and vigour about it that shows what a great talent he really was.

Roger Clarke

And raving on from the back . . .

****

IT was described as the day music died when rock 'n' roll legend Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash, aged just 22.

But enthusiastic audiences at the Alex this week know the songs of the star in specs live on more than half a century after the tragedy at Clear Lake, Iowa.

Holly - born Charles Hardin Holley - made a big name for himself in a short time, and at the performance I attended Glen Joseph was excellent, both in the quality of his singing and guitar playing in the lead role..

You could hardly keep your feet still as he breezed through such hits as That'll be the Day, Shout, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy, True Love Ways and Heartbeat.

Late in the show he links up with the Big Bopper (Steve Dorsett) and Ritchie Valens (Miguel Angel) - who died with Holly in the crash - and that was the opportunity for their memorable hits, Chantilly Lace and La Bamba, to thrill the customers.

There is an amusing section when Buddy and his musicians perform at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem - where white men feared to tread - and the audience loved them.

The story shows how Holly parted company with his band, The Crickets, and also how he married music publishing company receptionist Maria Elena Santiago after proposing to her within minutes of their meeting. She subsequently warned her husband after suffering nightmares about him being involved in a tragic accident.

A super show in which the pace never dips. to 19.11.11

Paul Marston

Buddy is not a particularly informative show about the life of Holly, and a lot of the information less than accurate - The Crickets did not appear on the scene until after the unsuccessful early Decca rockabilly recordings for example and while True Love Ways was written for his wife it certainly wasn't knocked off then sung to her as he waited for the taxi to take him on his final, fateful tour. It was in fact recorded some four months before he died.

Even the details of the fateful plane crash on 3 February 1959 do not give the full story. Ritchie Valens did wangle himself a seat on Holly's chartered plane on the toss of a coin but much more interesting was the fact that Holly's bass player, one Waylon Jennings, nobly gave up his seat not to Richie Valens but to J P Richardson because The Big Bopper was suffering  from a bad cold which would not be helped by a night shivering on a tour bus.

As the group joked after the concert Holly told Jennings that he hoped that his tour bus froze up and Jennings quipped back that he hoped Holly's plane crashed.

It was an innocent remark in jest that was to haunt Jennings for the rest of his life. 

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