Writer: Alan Janes
Director: Matt Salisbury
Reviewer: Beth Steer
Pitted as the ‘world’s most successful Rock ‘n’ Roll musical, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story has come to Cardiff’s New Theatre. Seen by more than 22 million people in over 25,000 shows worldwide, the show has been running for 27 years since it first opened in London, and charts the ‘golden years of Rock ‘n’ Roll: 1956 – 1959’. And audiences are in for a nostalgic ride.
Chronicling the short but incredibly successful career of Buddy Holly (born Charles Hardin Holley – before his parents decided that was too long of a name for ‘such a little boy’), Buddy introduces the audience to the very start of Buddy Holly’s musical journey. Set originally in Texas, as Buddy and his bandmates – ‘the Crickets’ – break the rules of ‘country music’, the show charts Buddy’s struggles and success, documenting his meteoric career before culminating in his tragic death; the plane crash that left millions of fans stunned.
With a set list that includes some of Buddy Holly’s most well-known hits including Peggy Sue, That’ll be the Day and Raining in my Heart, the performance gets the audience moving in their seats. Providing a brief window into what it might’ve been like to see the star at various stages during his career, from the ground-breaking gig at Harlem’s Apollo to the infamous last concert at The Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa. Watching Buddy feels like an energetic tribute concert.
As Buddy, Glen Joseph endears himself to the audience with his portrayal of the star in his early career – determined and stubborn, with a refusal to remove his trademark glasses. There are moments of comedy, too, in the form of contextual ‘in jokes’, that Joseph performs with a light-hearted manner that amuses the audience.
While the cast of musicians are all undeniably extremely talented – Josh Haberfield as Jerry is particularly entertaining with his ‘knee slapping thing’ on That’ll be the Day – the cast’s attempt at accents let the show down a little. At times, the diction is obscured as a Southern American accent is mimicked, making it a little hard to follow some of the dialogue. As Maria Elena – Buddy’s tragically young widow – Kerry Low is glamorous and simultaneously touching in her performance, but she struggles to maintain a Puerto Rican accent (to the extent that it’s not clear where she is supposed to originate from, without prior knowledge). It’s distracting and takes away from some of the magic of the musical performance.
Creatively, the show is well done. The set is clever and dynamic, the lighting effective and dramatic. At times, the sound quality varies – some of the microphones are much louder than the others, particularly when the ‘radio show voiceover’ takes place. It’s a little scatty and somewhat prevents the performance from being truly slick.
Overall, it’s a good production and one that’s bound to entertain fans of Buddy Holly, as well as those interested in the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The show assumes a fair amount of prior knowledge, which is fair, but perhaps isn’t something for everyone. The musicians are great, and the performance is packed with energy. A fitting tribute, that with a little more refining could be really thrilling.
Runs until 8 July 2017 | Image: Contributed