Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story

Mar 1 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆    Celebratory

Festival Theatre: Tue 28 Feb – Sat 4 Mar 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

Full of crowd-pleasing music, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story – at the Festival Theatre until Saturday – continues to pack in crowds who can see past its flimsy storyline and lack of dimension, and concentrate instead on the rollicking rock’n’roll good time it provides.

In his brief, meteoric career, Holly introduced the concept of the singing songwriter into 50s music, fused rock and roll, rhythm and blues and country with the tradition of the Great American Songbook, and – with The Crickets – established the two guitars/bass/drums format that dominated for decades afterwards.

Kerry Low, Josh Haberfield,, Glen Joseph (Buddy Holly), Joe Butcher, Celia Cruwys-Finnigan. Photo: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story

Elvis may have had the moves, but Holly was arguably the more influential figure. Without his lead, The Beatles (to take just one example) would have been a very different act indeed.

His shocking death at 22 on The Day The Music Died is also well enough known to be represented here in the briefest of ways, albeit effectively – but with much heavy-handed dramatic irony preceding it.

The show is certainly aimed at those who know the basic facts already. Even for a jukebox musical Alan Janes’s plot is sketchy and somewhat cheesy. There is little attempt to integrate the music into the plot; these are just the numbers that Holly (and some others) performed.

There is no doubt that these songs constitute the main draw for the large, devoted audiences, and in the second half any attempt at narrative is completely jettisoned in order to become the tribute concert that it so clearly wants to be all along.

spot on

In this regard, the show has a trump card in Glen Joseph, whose Holly is not only spot on in vocals and guitar, but also exudes a likeable charm that carries the whole thing along. He also embodies Holly’s combination of chummy goofiness and a complete conviction in his sound and image. And there can be no doubt that it is his story – other characters are more than flimsy by comparison.

Thomas Mitchells (Big Bopper), Glen Joseph (Buddy Holly) Jordan Cunningham (Ritchie Valens). Photo: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story

The supporting cast fill a variety of roles with considerable gusto but little subtlety. Director Matt Salisbury goes in for slabs of primary colour as much as designer Adrian Rees, whose set is probably what Mondrian would have produced had he made carpet tiles for Buddy’s brothers.

There are interesting stories to be told that are glossed over – the events that led to the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens being on the fateful plane (rather than Holly’s backing musicians, including future Outlaw Country legend Waylon Jennings, who is not even mentioned) are skated over almost comically.

Similarly, Holly’s break-up with the original Crickets and producer Norman Petty (a suitably oleaginous Alex Tosh) is shown as being as much of a personality clash between Holly’s Puerto Rican wife Maria Elena and Petty’s wife Vi (Celia Cruwys-Finnigan) as anything else. The real story, which did involve Maria Elena, but was more to do with her suspicions about Petty’s accounting practices, is much more complicated (if less obviously dramatic).

The events depicted here do allow for some examination of the racial and sexual politics of the era, but these are laid on with the broadest of brushes, and seem designed to evoke cheap laughter at stereotypes more than anything else. How Holly (a man who seemed notably colour blind by 50s Southern standards) took elements of African-American music, such as the ‘Bo Diddley beat’ on Not Fade Away, and sold them back to their original audience, cries out to be treated a little more carefully than it is here.


Kerry Low’s Maria Elena is one of the most successful supporting performances, with her connection to Joseph’s Holly being thoroughly believable. The moment Holly serenades her with a stripped-down True Love Ways is a highlight, not least because the song serves a real purpose in the storyline for once.

It is also enviably clear, where some of the music tends towards the muddy. This diminishes the possibility of recreating the genuine excitement that Holly’s music provoked; the habit of starting songs, only to stop them after a verse in order to show us some more hokey in-studio creativity, is just annoying.

The representation of Holly’s final concert, meanwhile, complete with Matthew Quinn’s hypercheesy compere and (intentionally) bad supporting acts, seems to suggest that he had already slid into cabaretland, a suspicion enhanced by Thomas Mitchells and Jordan Cunningham’s exaggerated, if effective, turns as the Bopper and Valens respectively.

However, as always, it is the sheer thrill of that music that saves the day. Even the clowning of the backing band and less than perfect sound cannot torpedo the utter joy that Rave On, Oh Boy, That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue must engender in anyone with a pulse – and it is this that gives the production its enduring appeal.

Running time 2 hours 40 minutes including one interval
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Tuesday 28 February – Saturday 4 March 2017
Evenings: 7.30pm, matinees Thurs, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and information: www.edtheatres.com/buddy
Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story Website: www.buddythemusical.com

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story on tour:
28 February – 4 March Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
7 – 11 March Aylesbury
Waterside Theatre
0844 871 7607 Book online
21 – 25 March York
Grand Opera House
0844 871 3024 Book online
28 March – 1 April Birmingham
New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011 Book online
4 – 8 April Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
17 – 18 April Crawley
The Hawth
01293 553636 Book online
20 – 22 April Ipswich
Regent Theatre
01473 433100 Book online
24 – 25 April King’s Lynn
Corn Exchange
01553 764864 Book online
27 – 29 April Liverpool
Empire Theatre
0844 871 3017 Book online
2 – 6 May Hastings
White Rock Theatre
01424 462288 Book online
9 – 13 May Bromley
Churchill Theatre
020 3285 6000 Book online
15 – 20 May Dundee
01382 223530 Book online
22 – 27 May Carlisle
Sands Centre
01228 633766 Book online
30 May – 3 June Manchester
Palace Theatre
0844 871 3019 Book online
5 – 10 June Brighton
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7650 Book online

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