Venue: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Production Run: Tues 28 March - Sat 1 April 2017

Performance Reviewed: Tue 28 March (Press Night)

It’s still remarkable to consider the fact that the legacy of Buddy Holly comes from such a relatively brief time in the spotlight. In just over 18 months of unprecedented chart success before his untimely passing, he etched out an indelible impression in the history of not just rock ’n roll, but the music industry as a whole. That his music is still being celebrated today, both on stage and off, is a testimony to that legacy that is beautifully encapsulated in Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story.

It also leaves the musical with something of a quandary; with Buddy’s story being so relatively fleeting, there isn’t a lifetime of highs, lows and dramatic nuggets to bounce off of here.

Even Buddy’s tragic death in a plane crash is respectfully acknowledged but - a few beats of ominous foreshadowing aside - generally passed over as swiftly as it introduced. Rather than dwelling on the impact and after-effects of his passing, we are swiftly flung back into a crowd-pleasing curtain call.

That his wife Maria Elena (Kerry Low) miscarried the child we see her pregnant with throughout the second half of the show shortly after his death likewise goes untouched upon.

It’s understandable, though, for despite the sombre coda, Buddy remains a generally spirited and upbeat celebration above all, and means that front and centre is what the vast majority of the audience are coming to see - the music.

Whilst Buddy isn’t exactly a concert musical in the same vein as, say, Thriller Live or Let It Be, it isn’t a million miles from it. The true-to-life story, which charts Holly’s quick ascent from determined Country recording artist to chart-dominating rock ’n roll superstar, is generally strung around a series of performances of Holly’s signature tracks, including ‘Heartbeat’, ‘That’ll Be The Day’ and ‘Peggy Sue’. 

For the first Act, it works - the show cannily playing to its strengths and putting Buddy, a microphone and his beloved music front and centre. There’s a dash of comedic interplay - mostly courtesy of Holly’s co-stars The Crickets - and some of the inevitable music industry ladder climbing and ego appeasing, but generally the man, his band and their microphones more than suffice.

It’s in Act 2 that the show breathes a bit more life and invention into itself. Wisely positing Holly’s final performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa as an extended set piece which takes up the majority of the show’s second half, audiences are treated to some real in-universe, in-theatre fun, not least of all courtesy of Matthew Quinn’s genius turn as an hilarious, over-animated compere unafraid of getting the audience involved.

Who here has heard of ‘Kidd-er-mins-ter?’

It’s a sequence that also treats us to performances from Holly’s touring co-stars - such as a rousing take on ‘Chantilly Lace’ from J. P. Richardson a.k.a ‘The Big Bopper’, an electric performance of rambunctious delight by Thomas Mitchells. Elsewhere, Jordan Cunningham, who has impressed in bit parts earlier throughout the show, gives a fantastic, spirited rendition of ‘La Bamba’ in channeling his Ritchie Valens, complete with added hip swinging and gyration.

But the real star of the show is undoubtedly (and unsurprisingly) Holly himself, and talented young Alex Fobbester does terrific work here. Likeable, engaging and channeling the spirit of Holly relatively effortlessly, it’s a wonderfully observed performance that, crucially, more than does the late great star justice.

With the recent passing of the legendary Chuck Berry, it’s easy to see the curtain falling on classic rock and roll as we lament another of the greats being taken from us. And yet, with shows such as Buddy - which, incidentally, ends on Berry classic ‘Johnny B. Goode’ - continuing to tour to rapturous applause and eager audiences, it’s affirming to see their music living on. For even almost 60 years after his brief and fleeting moment in the heights of the musical stratosphere, the legend of Buddy Holly lives on in spirited, faithful and uplifting fashion with Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story.

RATING - ★★★★

Tickets: 0844 871 3011​  / Official Website: click​