Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, Bath Theatre Royal

THIS show, which pays tribute to 1950s singer/songwriter Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holley, has been wowing his fans for almost a dozen more years than he actually lived.

Buddy was only 22 years old when, along with two other top rock‘n’roll stars(Ritchie Valens and J P Richardson, aka The Big Bopper,) he was killed when the light aircraft in which he was flying crashed just outside Clear Lake in Iowa.

It was in August 1989 that Alan Janes’ musical history of Buddy Holly’s life first saw the light of day in the Theatre Royal in Plymouth before moving to London’s Victoria Palace, where it stayed in the West End for 5,140 performances. Since then, in this country and the USA, it has been almost continually on tour, picking up a cult following of younger fans, most of whom were not born when Buddy died, along the way.

They turned out in force to greet this latest production which has A J Jenks, who alternates with Christopher Weeks, playing Buddy Holly and the role of Niki Sullivan (one of the original backing group, The Crickets). Thanks to early videos and the remarkably long list of recordings,which were put on disc in an 18- month period between 1957 and 1959, we have clear images of what Buddy Holly looked and sounded like. Right down to the facial expressions behind those distinctive large framed glasses, body movement, singing and guitar playing style, A J Jenks has Buddy Holly off to a tee.

Because we have so little information about Holly the man – and like all juke box musicals this one only supplies a quick sketch of his life – it is impossible to say how accurate the personal details are. Not that any of that appeared to bother the audience, wide ranging in age, at Bath. They had come principally for the music, and with an expertly delivered sound design, and a cast who supplied the musical content as well as the characters, they more than had their money’s worth.

Thirteen songs ranging from the initial hits, That’ll Be The Day and Peggy Sue, to Oh Boy, filled the first half of the show. With Christopher Chandler and Miguel Angel ready to launch into orbit as The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, singing Chantilly Lace and La Bamba, plus 14 more numbers, the second half was even more crowded with musical memories. Having zig-zagged from musical and vocal backing groups, though a string of quick-fire characters, Thomas Mitchell’s cheesy MC at the final Clearlake concert, and Stephanie Cremona’s nerve-jangling off-key singing of the American National Anthem, the full company assembled bringing their wide range of musical and vocal talents to bear on a rip-roaring reproduction of that last concert at the Surf Club.

As one hit number follows another, Heartbeat, Raining in My Heart and It Doesn’t Matter Anymore among them, it is difficult to take in how much this rock’n’roll pioneer achieved in just under two years.

The show is at the Theatre Royal Bath until 8th April and can be seen st Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre between 20th and 24th June.


Photograph by Rebecca Need-Menear

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