Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story

Nostalgia is big business. Harking back to some mythical golden age permeates both politics and popular culture just now, but nostalgia is undeniably rose-tinted and glosses over the hardships, struggles and wider picture. Even in its very welcome new tour, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story feels nostalgic on several levels: as a reflection on the brief life of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most influential founders; and as one of the first “juke box” musicals to hit London’s West End (after Elvis in 1977).

Packed with terrifically up-beat numbers delivered with consistent verve, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story remains a bankable night out

As one of the most-toured shows, can this production be fresh and exciting—especially since director Matt Salisbury worked on the original 1989 production? Sadly, the set and costumes feel like tired facsimiles rather than bright indicators of a vibrant post-war-pre-Cuban-crisis optimism. However, on the night of the review, Buddy was played with puckish polish by real-life Buddy Holly tribute act frontman, Glen Joseph. Holly’s musical geekiness (spawning generations of uber-hip heavy glasses-wearers) and determination to record his way really exudes from Joseph’s performance; his guitar playing is deft. The songs range from wedding band-esque Peggy Sue Got Married to the jumping Jackie Wilson-y Oh Boy, but it’s the beautiful harmonies on Words of Love that echo down recognisably through the Everly Brothers, The Beach Boys, the Beatles and beyond.

The character of Vi Petty (Celia Cruwys-Finnigan) deserves a mention as her talents are only touched upon in this story and hard to find elsewhere. As a member of the Norman Petty Trio, co-founder of the studio where the Crickets recorded, Vi is rightly credited in the musical as providing the celeste accompaniment to Every Day, though she’s otherwise jokingly depicted as the studio coffee-girl, which feels dismissive. The Maria Elena character (Kerry Low) comes across as a two-dimensional Yoko Ono and superfluous to the narrative.

Highlights of the show include Richie Valence’s (Jordan Cunningham) snake hips flicking to La Bamba and Miguel Angel and Cunningham’s elastic rendition of Shout which begs an entire musical based on the rich musical history of Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. The Crickets’ performance at that venue was indeed breakthrough but it is disputed whether they were the first white performers—Jimmy Cavallo and Dale Hawkins both claiming to predate. Still, never let truth get in the way of a good story and better to allow Holly’s life to slip into rock legend.

There are cute moments when the audience hums along sounding almost like a lullaby; is this a salve to the inevitable? Packed with terrifically up-beat numbers delivered with consistent verve, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story remains a bankable night out, devoid of disappointment, that still somehow manages to depict that tragic point of death with a subtle and surprising poignancy.

Reviews by Sarah McIntosh

Edinburgh Playhouse

Funny Girl

★★★★
Festival Theatre Edinburgh

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story

★★★★
King's Theatre

TOM, the Musical

★★★★
Festival Theatre Edinburgh

James III: The True Mirror

★★★★
Festival Theatre Edinburgh

James II: Day of the Innocents

★★★
Festival Theatre Edinburgh

James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock

★★★★

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

This sensational multi award winning West End show returns to Edinburgh!

Forget feel good, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is feel great! Experience the drama, passion and excitement as a cast of phenomenally talented actors and musicians tell Buddy Holly’s story, from his meteoric rise to fame, to his final legendary performance at The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Featuring two terrific hours of the greatest songs ever written, including “That’ll Be The Day”, “Oh Boy”, “Rave On”, “La Bamba", “Chantilly Lace”, “Johnny B. Goode”, “Raining In My Heart”, “Everyday”, “Shout” and many many more, this show is just “Peggy Sue”-perb!

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