I wasn’t sure what to expect with Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. With only a cursory knowledge of Buddy’s back-catalogue, I was intrigued to see a show that advertised itself as “a true original and a musical phenomenon that has inspired a generation of multi-million selling jukebox musicals”.
I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for me - and I wasn’t disappointed!
From the moment the lights came up and Harry Boyd, the larger-than-life Texan narrator in the form of DJ Hipockets Duncan, began telling Buddy’s life story, I was lost.
At first, I was a little underwhelmed with the staging - a simple 50s panelled backdrop for most of Act One - but as the performance went on, I realised that this was by no stretch of the imagination an oversight by the creative team. It was instead a masterful touch to forgo the theatrical staging in favour of letting the performers fill the stage with their presence. The message is clear - we don’t want anything to detract from the telling of Buddy’s story.
And what a fantastic story it is. A young, inexperienced Texan boy seeking his fame and fortune as the next big things in Rock ‘n’ Roll - only to be cut short by a tragic accident that changed the musical landscape forever. I know, sounds very gratuitous, doesn’t it? Even I think it sounds like a Hallmark film. But it’s a true story, which it makes it all the more unbelievable.
By the interval, I was so engrossed in the story that I was positively impatient to shoo-bop and oooh-ahhh my way back into the world of Buddy Holly for Act Two. That’s impressive, for someone who had nothing more than a casual appreciation for him before this!
If Act One was perfectly setting the scene for Buddy’s entrance into the music scene, Act Two was riotous in its depiction of Holly’s stratospheric rise in the music industry. He was now a star, something that was apparent in every chord the performers struck, in every note that was sung. Buddy Holly and his band the Crickets had made it!
Every single performer who graced the stage in the Buddy Holly Experience was a sheer joy to watch. The eponymous Buddy Holly (Christopher Weeks) was a triumph, perfectly executing Buddy’s trademark shy country-boy nature off-stage and his electric stage presence during the performance sequences. A true talent.
The 3 Crickets (played by played by Joe Butcher, Josh Haberfield and AJ Jenks) were the perfect accompaniment for Weeks, harmonising so perfectly in places that it gave me goosebumps. More than their obvious vocal talents, director Matt Salisbury does an impeccable job of portraying all 4 characters as heart-wrenchingly genuine - all polite, small-town boys far away from their “Mommas” (who call regularly to make sure their boys are eating well!)
While all the Crickets each had their own standout moments (deservedly so), I want to single out the stellar performance of bassist Joe Butcher, whose facial expressions - and acrobatics with the bass - is deserving of a special mention.
Throughout the show, the lighting is perfect, creating a seamless transition between the small recording studios of small-town Texas to the lofty heights of a sold-out Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
Likewise, the Costume designer seamlessly captures the easy flirtations of the 1950s style, perfectly capturing the nostalgic nuances of the era, making you feel like you’re right there with Buddy and the gang on their adventure. Yet another brilliant connection forged with the audience from the off.
Of course, the director Matt Salisbury is deserving of rapturous applause, bringing the characters to life in such an unimposingly, achingly genuine way - you leave the theatre thinking you know so much more about Buddy Holly; not just the musician but the person. A real feat accompli in just 2 hours and 20 minutes.
So many shows of this ilk choose to focus solely on their subjects’ music (like The Beatles’ Let It Be), but this show is so much more than that. I’m so glad the story of Buddy’s musical life is interweaved with his songs - it is the perfect mix of elements that creates a show that will resonate with you long after the final curtain has fallen. As it says in the name, a real “experience”.
At North West End UK, we give 5 stars to shows that “are the best of their kind” - and The Buddy Holly Story is definitely the crème de la crème of jukebox musicals.
A true delight from start to finish - and I can guarantee you’ll be listening to Buddy Holly’s impressive repertoire for the foreseeable future after seeing this show! https://thelowry.com/whats-on/buddy/
Reviewer: Hannah Wilde
Reviewed: 27th January 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★