Buddy – Review – Bradford Alhambra

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Buddy – Review

Bradford Alhambra, July 2017

by Sandra Callard

Buddy Holly composed and performed his phenomenally successful and influential hit music for a mere eighteen months before his tragically premature death in 1959 at the age of twenty two. The stage musical of his life, Buddy , is once again a touring show.

The demanding lead role is taken by Glen Joseph, a highly experienced and talented actor and musician, who has reprised the role many times. Initially there appears nothing to recommend him taking on the role of Buddy. He is not tall enough, not thin enough, and not young enough. His hair is far from the dark wavy locks of Buddy, it is mousy and thinning. He wears glasses, but they are not the iconic huge black ones that Buddy wore, they are simply black specs. And when he smiles he generates the unsettling aspect of a younger Eric Morecambe.

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“Perfectly accomplished”

So much for the cons, but are there any pros? You bet there are! When he plays, sings and moves, Joseph, astoundingly, pays a gigantic tribute to Buddy Holly. His voice is not identical (whose could be?) but he echoes every quirk and characteristic that makes Buddy Holly so unique. Joseph sings Holly with a conviction that is palpable, and transfers the joy that Buddy’s music engenders to the audience. It is masterful performance.

The supporting cast is strong, particularly Thomas Mitchells as The Big Bopper, Jordan Cunningham as Ritchie Valens, and Joe Butcher and Josh Haberfield as Mauldin and Allison, Holly’s original bass and drum players. The performance of Holly and the Crickets, Big Bopper and Valens, prior to taking their ill-fated plane journey to Minnesota in 1959, is superb.

Big Bopper’s ‘Chantilly Lace’ and Richie Valen’s ‘La Bamba’ – the pair’s biggest hits – are perfectly accomplished, and the medley of Holly’s hits are a dream as Joseph pulls out the zenith of his performance.

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“Songs that defy years”

The whole show is a spectacularly vivid homage to Buddy Holly and the Crickets, but Buddy is the stand-alone hero of the group, which was reconfigured with alarming regularity over the short years of its existence. He left behind him a startlingly prolific legacy of songs, from romantic ballads such as ‘True Love Ways’, ‘Words of Love’ and the beautiful ‘Raining in My Heart’, through to the unashamedly hard rock of ‘Not Fade Away’ and ‘Shout’ and the beat-laden joy of ‘That’ll Be The Day’ and ‘Rave On’.

This musical brings them all to a receptive audience of all ages, some of whom remember the origins of the Buddy era, but some are newly initiated teenagers, and there is every age between.

Holly’s songs defy the years, the vagaries of fashion and the vogues of the pretentious. When Don McLean sang about “the day the music died” he was mistaken. It is alive and kicking and clearly will ‘Not Fade Away’ any time soon.

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