The songs of Buddy Holly are performed with great exuberance and rock ‘n’ roll fervor, while the life of Buddy Holly is superficialized and glossed over, in the touring company production of a show that has been wowing London crowds for a couple years.
“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” is a bad name for the show, and not just because it has the word “Buddy” twice. The show makes only half-hearted attempts to tell Buddy Holly’s story: who he was, how he rose to fame, his tragic death in a 1959 plane crash. His offstage life is reduced to a few tritely written, broadly acted scenes, the only real connection coming when Buddy (Van Zeiler) sings “True Love Ways” for his soon-to-be-widowed bride Maria (Victoria Stilwell).
Buddy’s bass player (Steve Friday) and drummer (Fred Berman) cry out to be liked, but their parts are so underwritten that we never get to know them. Our fondness for them is due mostly to their energy and musical ability — so when the band breaks up, all we can do is sit and watch and wonder why everybody doesn’t just start singing again.
The reason most of the acting is overdone is probably that the actors double as singers and musicians in the finale, when Buddy, the Big Bopper (Travis Turpin) and Ritchie Valens (Rob Langeder) perform in Clear Lake, Iowa, just before that fateful flight.
The entire ensemble consists of nothing but top-notch singers and musicians, and some of those rock ‘n’ roll numbers are truly electrifying.
There’s no denying that the show is entertaining, if you take it as nothing more than a rock concert that pays tribute to Buddy Holly with a shell of a plot surrounding it. The problem is that if you’re going to try to tell his story, do it for real. I would have no problem with a show that was JUST a Buddy Holly tribute concert. I also would have no problem with a show that attempted to tell his life story, with some of his songs quite naturally thrown in to the mix.
But this show tries to do both, and the concepts trip over each other. The “life story” scenes, as mentioned, aren’t much good. The “tribute concert” angle is much, much better — but it gets slowed down by the dialogue scenes.
If you’re a Buddy Holly fan, see this show for a vivid re-creation of his best work, fantastically and lovingly performed. If you’re looking for biography or insight, forget it.
I like Buddy Holly. I mean, who doesn't like Buddy Holly? I just wish this show had done one or the other: Either show us his biography, which I'm sure could have been interesting, or else do a simple rock concert with his songs. The half-hearted mixture just didn't work. But the rock music was definitely kickin', that's for sure.