MusicalReviewSouth East

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Writer: Alan Janes
Director: Matt Salisbury
Choreographer: Miguel Angel
Reviewer: Dan English

One of the original jukebox musicals, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, makes its rock and roll stop in Dartford, retelling the life of 50s musical superstar Buddy Holly.

Buddy, written by Alan Janes, debuted in 1989, although Holly’s legion of loyal fans are still flocking to see the two and a half hour tour that looks at Holly’s life, right up until his premature death in a plane crash in 1959. It is a show that throws us back to the 1950s when rock and roll was dangerous and America was still in the midst of great civil divisions. Music provided an outlet to voice the frustrations of the masses, or, in Holly’s case, to push new boundaries and take creativity to new places.

Musically, this is a scintillating production. Glen Joseph is Buddy Holly, and Joseph’s performance as the great showman is not a mere imitation act, but one with great energy and showmanship. As the production reaches its roaring final half hour, Joseph delivers hit after hit from Holly’s back catalogue with tremendous style. What is even more impressive is Joseph’s ability to encapsulate all of the rock and roll synonymous with Holly, but also Holly’s more tender moments too, especially with wife Maria Elena (Kerry Low). Joseph and Low do well to conjure a meaningful relationship in such a short space of time during this production, culminating in Holly so serenely serenading Maria during Act Two.

Joseph is also supported excellently by a number of talented performers throughout. His backing band, The Crickets (Joe Butcher and Josh Haberfield) help establish the early moments of Holly’s career, particularly in the recording studio with Norman Petty (Alex Tosh). Whereas Holly is so focused on his musical output, his goofy band does provide some light relief, and visible frustration, during Holly’s desire for perfection. Moving forward, Holly also performs with two rising stars of the era who also perished in his fatal plane crash, The Big Bopper (Thomas Mitchells) and Ritchie Valens (Jordan Cunningham), as the show reaches its end, with the trio giving a rousing rendition of La Bamba in all its pelvic thrusting glory. It is a treat to see the trio perform together, each bringing their unique styles to the stage, and perhaps the disappointment in not seeing this earlier in the production is a symbol of the opportunity lost as a result of their deaths.

There is a great level of frustration with this production, however. Although the music is so well delivered, it is the turgid dialogue in between musical numbers that detracts from an enjoyable show. Admittedly, most jukebox musicals struggle for plot line, but Janes’ script does appear to lack substance particularly during the first half, when it feels as the act might never escape the confines recording studio and does stagnate the production as a whole. The one redeeming quality the script does have, however, is that after the rip-roaring finale, there is a brief moment of poignant reflection to emphasise Holly’s tragic demise.

Adrian Rees’ design is somewhat simplistic in regards to the set, but although this does not entirely throw the audience back to the 1950s, it does not distract the viewer from the performances on stage. The subtle silhouetted backdrops give an inkling as to the city location of each scene, although this is not always clear.

It is a production that has its flaws, but is fortunate that these cracks are covered by the outstanding quality of musical performances on show. Glen Joseph gives a stunning portrayal as the man who helped to define rock and roll, particularly in the show’s final half hour. The script might need rejuvenating, but the music of Buddy Holly certainly does not.

Runs until 29 October 2016 and continues to tour | Image: Contributed

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The South East team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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