Buddy – Review – Bradford Alhambra

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Buddy – Review

Bradford Alhambra, July 2014

by Sandra Callard

Billed as ‘The World’s Most Successful Rock ‘n’ Roll Musical’, Buddy celebrates its Silver Anniversary this year. It joins the small number of stellar musicals that can boast a run of 25-years. Having performed to universal acclaim, it is now on tour. As a lifelong fan of Buddy Holly,  I am eager to relive the music of the fifties, as Holly emerges through the cradle of rock ‘n’ roll.

KJohnnyW PhotographyThe story skips through Buddy’s early years with no pretension to great drama. Roger Rowley, who plays Buddy, is remarkably like him physically. He handles the southern accent very well. It’s easy to overdo the drawl and sound like a caricature. But this actor has it just right. Rock ‘n’ roll is in its infancy here and struggling for acceptance. Holly is persistently steered towards country music by those who should have known better. But he knows that rock is for him, and doggedly pursues his road. The start of the legend comes with the classic ‘That’ll be the Day’.

The sets are fairly simple. I like the surrounding brickwork at the beginning, as the girl trio sing ‘The Rose of Texas’. The song is just about as far as you can get from the music that Holly plays. The combination sets of the recording studios and the clubs are effective, as Holly attempts to get his music accepted and played.

“Moves about the stage elegantly and convincingly”

But this is all background stuff for what is to come. And what comes is a bombshell! Rowley’s physical likeness to Buddy is quite astounding. But Holly’s movements on stage are intricate and innovative. He uses these gazelle-like leaps, almost balletic in appearance, his long legs landing on the stage perfectly and soundlessly. Rowley executes them without a flaw. He moves about the stage elegantly and convincingly. His voice is good too. His renditions of the Holly classics are as close to Buddy as you can get, right down to the trademark syncopated hiccoughs.

KJohnnyW PhotographyThe cast is excellent, with not a bad performance between them. Vivienne Smith plays Buddy’s wife, Maria Elena, perfectly. The story of their meeting, their whirlwind romance and marriage plays out. She has an appealing elfin charm and Maria’s slight Spanish accent is not overdone. But is just enough to state her origin.

“It all comes together”

The two singers inextricably and tragically linked to Holly are Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. Played by Will Pearce and Jason Blackwater, their performances are on a par with Rowley’s as they each perform their big numbers. Valens’ ‘La Bamba’ and The Big Bopper’s ‘Chantilly Lace’, bring the house down.

But the music is the show. It all comes together as the great Holly songs fill the theatre. ‘Heartbeat’, ‘Raining in My Heart’, ‘Rave On’, ‘Not Fade Away’, ‘Maybe Baby’, have the audience on their feet. They are singing along, they are dancing, they are smiling, and even crying. The lives which are eventually cut so tragically short have left an enduring legacy. Don McLean is mistaken when singing his beautiful tribute song, ‘American Pie’. Holly’s death was not ‘the day the music died’.  It lives on in Buddy.

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