A musical doesn’t get to celebrate its 30th anniversary unless it is something special.
And that something is the music of Buddy Holly. In a whirlwind 18-months this young musician from Texas took the music world by storm, writing the soundtrack of a generation that has been influencing musicians ever since, from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen. Keith Richards once said: ‘To guys of my age at the time, if you were the least bit interested in music, Buddy was the one’. And Paul McCartney has hailed Buddy Holly as the reason both he and John Lennon started to write.
We first meet Buddy Holly (Christopher Weeks) and his band The Crickets (Joe Butcher, Josh Haberfield and AJ Jenks) in the recording studios of Decca Records. A fresh-faced 20-year-old, Buddy is still taking regular calls from his mother checking her son is eating properly. But while on the one hand he is young and naïve, on the other this young musician knows his own mind. He won’t be pushed into playing the country music expected of him, and he won’t be persuaded to sing without his trademark glasses.
This makes for a little tension with music executives, but it’s not long before Buddy’s talent shines through and he’s signing a record contract in New York with a string of rock ‘n’ roll hits to follow and finding his own True Love Ways. We get to hear this and all the favourites: That’ll be the Day; Heartbeat; Raining in my Heart; Oh Boy; Brown Eyed Handsome Man; Everyday; Heartbeat, and Cindy Lou that becomes the famous Peggy Sue. The size of the back-catalogue Buddy Holly created in such a short life is astonishing.
Here the songs aren’t shoe-horned into a story. The music is the story. And sadly, there are no spoilers by saying we all know how it ends.
Buddy Holly died in a plane crash in 1959 alongside Ritchie Valens, and J.P Richardson, ‘The Big Bopper’. They were touring together, and the latter part of the show recreates their final gig in Clear Lake, Iowa. A bouncing, pelvis thrusting, Valens (Ben Pryer) performs a crowd-pleasing La Bamba and J.P. Richardson (Joshua Barton) brings cheeky humour to his famous hit, Chantilly Lace. The concert scenes feel like a real gig and the talent of the actor musicians on stage is enviable. Harry Boyd, who until this point has donned a variety of hats and switched accents to play a whole host of different music execs, now takes his place as trumpeter with the band. How the producers have managed to find so many multi-talented cast members over 30 years on the road is another phenomenon of this show.
The youthful energy of the band makes the singers’ untimely deaths hit home all the harder, especially when we realise Buddy Holly was 22-years-old and Ritchie Valens just 17. Even though we know what’s coming it’s hard to escape feeling a genuine moment of sadness. But it’s not the end of the story. The music lives on and 60 years later it’s infectious beat still has an audience itching to dance. Buddy and his band return for an upbeat finale that has the whole theatre on its feet. If you haven’t seen this show go see it. And if you are one of the 22 million who have seen it before, this 30th anniversary production is definitely worth another whirl.★ ★ ★ ★