BUDDY – The Buddy Holly Story
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 19th May, 2014
The untimely death of Buddy Holly is as famous as his music. If you know about one, you’re aware of the other, and so there are no surprises plot-wise in this good-natured staging of the story of his rise to fame. Alan Janes’s script is laced with humour that director Matt Salisbury brings out to the full and the show follows the familiar pattern these biographical shows tend to have. Only the genre of music and the hairstyles seems to change.
Young Buddy (Glen Joseph – in the performance I saw) may look like a nerd but his appearance belies his passion for the emerging rock and roll music, so frowned upon by decent (white) society. Single-minded and subversive, Buddy stands against the conservative country music-infused local record industry and carves out a career for himself as a performer and, more impressively, as a songwriter of so many perfect pop hits: Everyday, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy, Theme from Heartbeat…
Glen Joseph is superb during the musical numbers if a little too Greg Proops-like in the dramatic scenes. Shaun Hennessy is also very good as DJ Hipockets Duncan, who bemoans Buddy’s rock and roll obsession while pulling out all the stops to help him on his path to stardom.
There are attempts to foreshadow the fate we all know lies in store: Buddy’s new bride has a recurring nightmare about a fireball in the sky, just as if she’s been watching the La Bamba movie. The recreation of the final, fateful concert is energising and exhilarating until it is suddenly curtailed, symbolically representing how quickly and prematurely Buddy’s life came to its end.
Jason Blackwater impresses as the Big Bopper, a man who appears to have built his entire act around bellowing ‘Hello, baby’ into a telephone. Another highlight is a performance of Shout by Lydia Fraser and Miguel Angel in a scene that highlights racial segregation in the music industry at the time. For me the most striking moment comes when Will Pearce appears as snake-hipped Ritchie Valens performing iconic song La Bamba almost entirely through the medium of pelvic thrusts.
Buddy is a crowd-pleaser and has been pleasing crowds for 25 years. There are no surprises but it did make me wonder what Holly might have gone on to achieve had he lived longer, and also whether his songs would have become classics of the era had the plane crash not guaranteed their longevity. I suspect they would; this show demonstrates the high quality of Holly’s output as a pop writer and underscores the tragedy of his loss while celebrating the music he left with us.