Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 3 September 2023.
Buddy Holly is the subject of one of the first jukebox musicals, and it has hit the North East this week. The hit show continues to play the memorable hits to packed houses because people love experiencing the music being performed live.
The musical, written by Alan James, opened 34 years ago and in choosing the tale of a musician whose career was very short (around 18 months), and yet extremely productive, it has created firm following. Holly is the enigma of his generation. The show is packed full of great rock and roll hits that regularly get the enthusiastic audience clapping along.
Christopher Weeks - Photo: Hamish Gill
Jukebox musicals based around one act tend to either construct a story around the music (Mamma Mia or We Will Rock You) or attempt to give the story of the artist (Jersey Boys or On Your Feet). Buddy is from the latter camp. Whilst you can now go on Wikipedia to verify the tale, back in 1989 much of this tale was less well known by those born after February 3 1959.
L-R AJ Jenks, Joe Butcher, Christopher Weeks,
Josh Haberfield - Photo: Hamish Gill
Am I correct in assuming though that, like watching a show about the Titanic, everyone knows the ending? Perhaps not, as there is a generation now that don't realise that The Bodyguard was a film before it was a musical - or that Carrie existed before the series Riverdale covered the musical version. No spoilers to follow then.
L-R Joe Butcher, Christopher Chandler, Miguel Angel,
Josh Haberfield - Photo: Hamish Gill
The action begins in Buddy Holly's hometown of Lubbock, Texas. He has formed a band called Buddy Holly and the Crickets and they have been invited to play country on the local country radio show. Mid way through they decide to break into the new radical phenomenon that is rock and roll - which angers local DJ Hipockets Duncan (Thomas Mitchells). The band are clearly frustrated that they don't have the freedom to play music the way that they want to.
They try their luck at the "home of country music" Decca Records in Nashville but the new style of brash loud rock and roll is not to the label's liking and hence hey are rejected. (Mind you Decca also rejected the Beatles as they thought guitar music was on its way out, but that's another story).
L-R Joe Butcher, Christopher Weeks, Josh Haberfield - Photo: Hamish Gill
Lucky for them, Holly and the boys are given a chance to link up with producer Norman Petty who is in a much better place to realise their dream. With the help of Norman's wife Vi (Stephanie Cremona) they create a number of hits in the studio before heading off on tour.
This musical features the ground breaking show at the Apollo in Harlem and Holly meeting his future wife before heading off on a freezing cold winter tour of the US with the Big Bopper (Christopher Chandler) and Ritchie Valens (Miguel Angel)...
Christopher Chandler - Photo: Hamish Gill
The main reason why this show works is three fold: firstly Buddy Holly comes across as a likeable/relatable person; secondly he wrote some catchy songs that still work today and finally - and most importantly - these hits are performed live by a brilliant ensemble that play and act seamlessly.
Miguel Angel - Photo: Hamish Gill
The energy that comes from the live performances rolls off the stage into the auditorium. The audience are regularly invited to join along with the clapping and this, at times, gives a feeling of a live concert. The three ringed circus is alive and kicking - especially as the show reaches the last few songs. No wonder the audience are on their feet at the end.
At the core of the live performances, on the night that we saw the show, are the highly engaging Christopher Weeks as Buddy, supported by AJ Jenks as Niki Sullivan (rhythm guitar), Josh Haberfield as Jerry Allison (drums) and Joe Butcher as Joe B Mauldin (bass). They play, in character and keep it tight. This includes some wonderful showing off with the bass and the guitar. The rest of the ensemble come in with keyboards, brass and vocals. (Worth noting that the roles of Holly and Niki alternate between the two actors at different performances)
L-R Miguel Angel, Laura-Dene Perryman, Christopher Weeks,
Samuelle Durojaiye - Photo Hamish Gill
So this is not a warts and all gritty drama. I'm sure that the songs took more time to develop (remember The Doors movie in that respect) and the people involved were not always so nice - but this is a feel good movie. Or as feel good as you can be given the ending. Director Matt Salisbury is responsible for a tight well oiled machine that delivers the very best slice of rock and roll heaven that it can.
I enjoyed it. Now "Alexia - play Buddy Holly".
Review: Stephen Oliver
Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Monday 28 August – Saturday 3 September 2023. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.
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