Director: Matt Salisbury
Musical Director: Richard Anderson
Reviewer: Fraser MacDonald
In just 18 months, Buddy Holly revolutionised music, helping to create what we know today as rock and roll. Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, now in its 25th year, follows Holly’s rise to fame to become one of the most successful recording artists of the 50’s before his tragic death in February 1959.
Writer Alan James initially merges the story of Buddy’s music career well with the playing of his music, with Buddy playing some of his biggest hits as his rise to fame takes him to the Harlem Apollo. At this point, the production becomes rather more a tribute show, with the latter part of Act I, and nearly all of Act II, played as concerts. This is rather a poisoned chalice, as allowing the character of Holly to interact with the audience leaves the storyline thin on the ground. It is, indeed, as if the show itself is not sure whether it is a biographical piece or tribute show. This is nonetheless forgotten as the focus for the Holly fans lies in his music.
Roger Rowley’s portrayal of Buddy is second to none: in terms of vocals, Rowley keeps to the familiar twangs that Holly was famous for; his guitar rolling off licks note for note identical to the records; his mimicry of Holly’s mannerisms is mesmerising to watch, from a slow shuffle of his loafers to the gentle rock of his guitar. Rowley is simply the man to beat in terms of Holly impersonation. Equally talented, if more understated, are The Crickets bassist Joe B Mauldin (Scott Haining), particularly in his unorthodox performance in Oh Boy! to close Act I, is a real treat to watch. It is clear all cast enjoy what they are doing and this transfers to the audience. Overall, the supporting cast is strong and carry the show well given what they have to work with. Glasgow audiences take little to get going and the cast engage with real enthusiasm.
The set is dreary and dated, with set ‘changes’ occasionally being missed by the viewer as they are so minor. This can detract from the performance as the audience take time to catch up to where the scene is actually taking place. Unlike the glitzy sets that surround many other musicals, the understated Buddy set may actually be just right for the job, reflecting the time of the period. However, one cannot help to think how much better a revamp of set would be in the telling of Holly’s story.
Of course, it all boils down to the music and with a talented cast and ensemble, hits like “Oh Boy!”, “Peggy Sue”, “It’s So Easy”, “Think It Over”, “Not Fade Away”, “Words of Love”and many others, it is impossible not to be caught up in the timeless simplicity of Holly’s back catalogue. One of the final numbers, “Heartbeat”, prompts a swell of energy in the audience to join in Glasgow’s biggest sing-a-long.
Although Buddy does not have the most uplifting storyline (spoiler: Buddy is no longer with us) and could probably do with a revamp to modernise its staging and set, it nonetheless gives an audience what they want; the story of Buddy Holly told through his songs. To think just how many hits he had, it is nearly guaranteed that you’ll be out of your seat by the end of the night.
Runs until 21 June, then touring