Writer: Alan Janes
Director: Matt Salisbury
Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen
“It’s not that I want to be rich. I just want the world to remember the name Buddy Holly”. Little did a passionate and determined teenage Buddy Holly know quite how much his words and wishes would come true, his music inspiring renowned artists such as The Beatles, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, and being listened to and enjoyed, to this day, by generations of devoted fans.
The Buddy Holly Story, written for the stage by Alan Janes in 1989, pays homage to the man whose life and career was tragically cut short when he was killed in a plane crash in early 1959. From his days in the studio with The Crickets, to his battles with different managers, this production, directed by Matt Salisbury, follows the journey of Holly as he bravely breaks away from the traditional sounds of country music, grows in confidence, and introduces a whole new style of music that would influence and ignite excitement in artists and audiences for decades to come.
The production flits from drawing audiences into intimate snippets of Holly’s life – from his studio time, to meeting and spontaneously marrying the love of his life Maria Elena (played well by Kerry Low) – to breaking the fourth wall and transporting them to being the giddy and excitable audiences of the 1950s, a contrast that does work well.
Alex Fobbester, as Holly, does a good job in bringing such an icon to life with his characterisation and well-rehearsed vocals. His commitment to the role makes it easy for audiences to take a trip down memory lane and enjoy the music that proved rock and roll is here to stay – including Peggy Sue, That’ll Be The Day, Heartbeat and Everyday. Some songs are more memorable than others, and perhaps ironically some of the stand-out moments of the show come not from Holly’s melodies but from some of the supporting acts. In Act One, an interpretation of The Isley Brothers’ hit Shout is truly uplifting, the rapport between performers Miguel Angel and Jordan Cunningham not failing to raise a smile. La Bamba, in which Fobbester features, is also a treat to watch.
But despite strong performances from cast members, the production is faced with the restrictions and limitations of the jukebox musical genre, making it difficult to get the right balance of a music celebration and honest piece of storytelling. By pleasing fans with classic hits, it does mean that the performance often prioritises the superficial over the deep and meaningful, and that audiences do not go on the rollercoaster they should. Elements of the plot are rushed to allow for another song, and in Act Two, 10 of the 15 numbers performed are all at the same concert. The ill-fated death of Holly is given just seconds at the end of the show, and while the spotlight on his guitar is symbolic, it could be given even more significance and authenticity, perhaps by sharing or showing snippets of the news that rocked the nation 58 years ago.
Ultimately, while this is not a performance that is as pioneering as the protagonist in his heyday, it is an enjoyable piece of entertainment for die-hard fans and proof that Holly’s death was not “the day the music died”, as Don McLean famously sang, but rather the day his music continued to live on.
Runs until 3 June 2017 | Image: Contributed