Updated: May 25, 2021
Written and produced by Alan Janes
27 January 2020 - 1 February 2020; 2hr 20min
It’s more than 30 years since this trend-setting jukebox musical first hit UK stages, but its popularity seems to be holding up well. The stats are impressive: it initially ran for 14 years in the West End, went international and has been seen by 22 million people - at one point in its history it seemed a permanent fixture on the touring circuit.
The secret of its enduring appeal? A story with a memorable conclusion and, in particular, a batch of evergreen pop songs.
It’s the mid-1950s and gangly but pioneering Buddy is shifting his musical style from country and western to rock and roll. With his band, the Crickets, and with much time spent in the recording studio, fame comes in a rush.
That’ll Be The Day proved a 1957 mega-hit, led to world-wide fame, Buddy going solo and continuing to produce a seemingly endless stream of songs.
But - and this is where the show has a particular edge, that etches it into memory when other similar shows have faded - the career was tragically short-lived and by 1959, when he was only 22, it was all over.
The show reproduces 20 of Holly’s greatest hits. As well as That’ll Be The Day, there’s Peggy Sue, Oh Boy, Rave On and many more. This is also the show that pioneered a concert-style second act – justified quite neatly by the story, but partly an excuse to bring in other performers and generally let things rip.
Overall this new touring production hasn’t the class of previous versions. It’s clearly more budget- conscious and coarser in its comedy. It never was a subtle show but we don’t need banging over the head with everything quite as much as happens here. To my recollection, the straight dialogue/story elements have been trimmed a little which might not matter, but the plane crash used to have sound and light, didn’t it?
It has always been a source of amazement that drama school lads from our own time can so transform themselves into Buddy lookalikes and not only look reasonably convincing, but also produce the musical goods. Buddy was Christopher Weeks at The Lowry opening night and he was terrific. During the run he shares the role with A J Jenks. There's also Joshua Barton as the Big Bopper, belting out Chantilly Lace, and Ben Pryer as Ritchie Valens with La Bamba.
Any production of Buddy stands or falls with the climactic concert - the one before the plane crash - and here it lifts the roof in fine style. The audience of a certain age that attended the Lowry first night clearly thought they’d had their money’s worth.
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