A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!





The Buddy Holly Story

Written by Alan Jones

Director Matt Salisbury

Sound Designer Pete Cox

Designer Adrian Rees

Lighting Designer Joe Atkins

Choreographer Lizzi Gee

Musical Supervisor John Bannister

Richmond Theatre

16 – 21 May 2011

On tour until July 16, 2011

When I was working in the Official Half Price Ticket Booth in Leicester Square, every Friday we’d be flooded with customers buying specially priced tickets for Buddy. Many who’d seen the show before said they were going again because they needed a lift or wanted to see it with the latest ‘Buddy’. But all of them, even those whose only clear word of spoken English was ‘rock,’ were really going for the music.

Buddy Holly was born in 1936 in Lubbock Texas, a place known for cotton production, into a family that was, apart from his father, very musical. At the age of five, Buddy won first prize in a local talent contest and at eleven, after just nine months of study, his piano teacher proclaimed him one of her most gifted pupils, after which he promptly switched to guitar. By 1949 Buddy and fellow classmate/guitar lover Bob Montgomery were playing country music at supermarket openings, school dances and other events. Fellow student Larry Welborn joined them in ‘53 and the trio played regularly on the half-hour radio show Sunday Party on local station KDAV. After Buddy and Bob saw Elvis Presley perform in 1955, they started to incorporate more rockabilly elements into their music, becoming successful to the point that they opened for groups like Bill Halley and His Comets. At one of these shows Buddy was spotted by a talent scout who arranged for some demos to be cut, and the rest is a pivotal part of rock music history.

Buddy Holly was both an original and, a true romantic. He met and proposed to his wife Maria Elena within the space of five hours on their first date and two months later, they were married.  He also wrote songs filled with lyrics relating to dreamy romantic love which some cynics might find corny today. But for every time Buddy penned and performed a more tender love song, there were two when he rocked out, often in conjunction with love related lyrics. Songs like ‘Peggy Sue’, ‘That’ll Be the Day’, ‘Maybe Baby’ and a raft of others have stood the test of time. They’re instantly recognizable songs you sing along to (even if just mentally) whenever they’re played. So in a sense, we’re still spreading Buddy’s positive vibes today. He was also a man who wanted to be taken for who he was - a lanky guy with glasses; amazingly glasses weren’t really seen on performers before Buddy came along. Other bespectacled rockers who followed Buddy’s obstinate lead owe him a lot. And listening to Buddy’s collection of hit songs today, all composed within the short space of eighteen months, I was struck by how much of him is in the Mersey Beat songs that I so loved as a child like ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Even the Beatles acknowledged Buddy’s lingering presence in their songs.

The show joins Buddy and his friends as they’re playing live for radio station KDAV. They’re gradually getting known, but country is not the music Buddy wants to play. When he decides to slip a rockin’ little number of his own into the mix, the show’s sponsors are not amused, and DJ Hip-pockets Duncan tries to steer Buddy’s career in a different direction, following a run in with Decca Records, for the same reason, pointing him to an independent producer, who, he says is currently working with ‘some guy called Orbison.’  Norman takes a shine to Buddy and company’s style and, after a few records are cut and begin their simultaneous, mercurial rises in the charts, Buddy Holly and the Crickets are officially born.

The success of Buddy really rests on the performance of the actor in its title role, and Glen Joseph has to be one of the best Buddys ever! Rather than imitate Holly, Joseph performs as Buddy and based on clips I’ve seen of the man himself performing, Joseph has studied his subject to the point where the lines between them blur. I imagine you would have to love a performer to be able to become him, and as Joseph’s performance is most engaging and, convincing, I’d say it is a true labour of love. It’s all there, Buddy’s trademark smile, energetic stage performances, passionate singing, full - on guitar playing and desire to please his audience, so much so that he doesn’t want to leave the stage! An experienced actor, Joseph played Buddy in the West End production of the show at the Duchess Theatre and again in the 20th Anniversary production in the UK and Germany. He was also honoured by the request to play Buddy at the 50th Anniversary concert on Feb. 3rd, 2009, fifty years to the day of the plane crash that took his life. Joseph set the crowd cheering and crying for more as though he was Buddy - a great compliment!

But this is a rousing production, through and through, with just about everything as it should be. Adrian Rees’ evocative set, covered in vintage ads for Lifesavers, Campbell’s soup and many other then, everyday things which are now as much a part of ‘50’s Americana as Cadillac convertibles and jukeboxes serves a dual purpose, housing ‘DJs’ above the stage, allowing for simultaneous action on both levels, enabling the production to move at a rapid pace, like Holly’s all too brief, comet-like career. Pete Cox’s Sound Design is likewise, integral to the atmosphere of the show, as it allows snippets of 1950’s radio announcements and the like to intermittently punctuate the action, further establishing the show’s already strong a sense of time and place, one the of the key elements which have made it so successful. Joe Atkins’ Lighting Design too, with its’ orchid corsage pinks and subtly changing ‘50’s kitsch colour scheme is reminiscent of proms and days when sentimentality was more the norm than the oddity.

Director Matt Salisbury is to be commended for his fine handling of not only his leading actor, but also, his talented cast, who take on a number of distinctly different roles with great skill and focus. Standout moments from among their many characterisations include slightly OTT portrays of maverick record producer Norman Petty and his piano playing wife Vi, from Kyle Riley and, Katia Sartini who also makes a good job of playing Maria Elena’s skeptical Aunt. Buddy’s true love Maria Elena, as played by Felicity Chilver, gets across the fact that although she’s good-natured, she’s nobody’s fool, and always has her husband’s best interests at heart. The prejudice Mexican-American Maria Elena had to face as the wife of a white Texan is also effectively conveyed here, as it was in the film Giant, starring ‘50’s icon James Dean, who’d met a similarly tragic end (to Buddy’s) the year before the film’s release in 1956. Miguel Angel’s spirited portrayal of Ritchie Valens singing and swinging his pelvis like mad to ‘La Bamba’ leaves an impression of the real thing, while Melissa Keyes’ exceptionally animated performances throughout, especially as the somewhat broadly portrayed, initially disgruntled host at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre on the night of Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ history making gig, when they were the first white act ever to grace that theatre’s stage serves as a blackly comic reminder of changing times. Ms. Keyes also does some excellent ‘50’s style singing with Felicity Chilver and Katia Sartini as ‘Snowbirds,’ and with Miguel Angel as her fellow performer at the Apollo Theatre. ‘Hayriders’ turned Crickets and other versatile band members as needed, Steve Dorsett, Kyle Riley and Roger Rowley round out the cast nicely, along with Gary Trainor, who plays Hipockets Duncan, the first DJ to ever play Buddy’s records on the radio.

The only constructive criticism I could possibly offer Mr. Salisbury would be that he please, ask the talented actor playing The Big Bopper, Steve Dorsett to either, put more into his singing of Bopper’s classic ‘Chantilly Lace’ or make it plain through his performance that Bopper was too worn out by that point in the tour to give it his all, for although Dorsett excels in his other roles and looks the part of the Bopper, his throwaway singing of that song momentarily lowered the energy level of the show. Otherwise, this production leaves nothing to be desired, apart from the desire to see it again!

There couldn’t be a better place to stage a musical than the Victorian gilt, red and cream encrusted Richmond Theatre, designed by acclaimed architect Frank Matcham in 1899 and lovingly refurbished in 1989. The Richmond, a traditional proscenium arch theatre, is considered the finest of the twenty-four remaining Matcham theatres.

The ending of this musical’s storyline is bittersweet, with the final concert of Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and Buddy Holly effectively fading into the mist, leaving a lone guitar, Buddy’s, in the spotlight. But Buddy Holly will live on forevermore, both through his timeless music and this hugely popular show!

23 - 28 May
Leicester De Montfort Hall
0116 233 3111

31 May - 4 June
Belfast Grand Opera House
(028) 9024 1919

7 - 11 June
Barnstaple Queen’s Theatre
01271 32 42 42

13 - 18 June
Norwich Theatre Royal
01603 63 00 00

20 - 25 June
Southend Cliffs Pavilion
01702 351 135

27 June – 2 July
Wycombe Swan Theatre
01494 412 000>

4-9 July
Glasgow King's Theatre
0844 871 7648 www,

11-16 July
Edinburgh Playhouse
0844 847 1660


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