Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story – Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Book: Alan Janes
Music and Lyrics: Buddy Holly and others
Reviewer: Natasha Hegarty

The tour of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story makes its stop at Northampton, bringing with it the epic sounds of ‘50s rock and roll. The show first opened in 1989 in London’s West End and hasn’t stopped since. Probably one of the most famous – maybe the first  – jukebox musical, paving the way for the tunes of Michael Jackson, Frankie Valli and The Kinks to entertain theatregoers all over the world.

As the title suggests, Buddy tells the story of the young musician’s rise to fame before his untimely death aged 22 and what a story it is. Kicking off in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, Buddy and his band The Crickets are desperately trying to get a record deal where they can play their own music their way, and it’s Norman Petty who finally gives them a chance. Act II sees the star meeting Maria Elena Santiago to whom he proposes after just five hours and soon he is breaking ties with his manager and The Crickets to go at it alone. In 1959 he sets off on The Winter Dance Party tour with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. The Surf Ballroom is their bittersweet last show before tragedy strikes.

Musically, this production is stunning, boasting an exceptionally talented cast. All the Holly classics including That’ll Be The Day, Oh Boy and Peggy Sue are there, as well as other ‘50s hits such as Chantilly Lace and La Bamba, which have the audience singing along.

Glen Joseph is excellent in the title role and not only has Buddy’s vocals down perfectly, he brings a real warmth to the character and is certainly a hit with the crowd. Joe Butcher and Josh Haberfield are excellent as The Crickets’ bass and drummer Joe B Mauldin and Jerry Allison; their friendship with their frontman is brimming with chemistry, though their parting of ways seems rather abrupt and it would work better if it is explored a little more. Alex Tosh is convincing as producer Petty and his excitement at finding such a talent to his genuine upset as Buddy leaves for New York is a really believable arc. Kerry Low makes a good Maria Elena and works very well with Joseph. One of the most touching – and standout – moments is Buddy’s performance of True Love Ways inspired by her. Just the pair of them and his acoustic guitar really tugs on the heartstrings.

However, the show isn’t without its issues. Joseph had a few guitar problems and had to have two new ones brought onstage, however he recovered well and didn’t miss a note in between. The majority of Act I is spent in the recording studio and although this builds up Holly’s backstory, it seems to drag on too long and the action could do with moving on much more quickly. In fact, it seems like everyone is just waiting for Act II’s main focus of the Surf Ballroom show to begin.

It’s clear why this is the biggest part of the production and biggest dramatic moment and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s hit after hit and easily transports the audience back to the ‘50s without feeling like a tribute concert. Here, a standout performance is Jordon Cunningham as Valens, who gets the audience going with an energetic performance of La Bamba. The final songs are full of energy and get everyone the audience on their feet for a brilliant finale.

Overall, we get exactly what the title suggests and, although the story is missing a little something, if you’re after a night of singing and dancing in the aisles, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is a great night out.

Runs until 14 November 2016 | Image: Johan Persson

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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