[Review] The Buddy Holly Story at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre 

31/01/2017

‘A hey, a hey–hey!’ Buddy Holly is in town and he’s bought the swinging sixties with him. Avid fan or partial listener, Matt Salisbury’s musical biopic will have anyone head-bopping and toe-tapping within minutes.

The curtains open to reveal a pastel-coloured, Mondrian print stage that immediately takes the audience back to 1956 with its tacky charm.

 

​          A histrionic voice booms out over the speakers and gets the crowd going before the show starts. The curtains open to reveal a pastel-coloured, Mondrian print stage that immediately takes the audience back to 1956 with its tacky charm. The radio presenter of KADV is the host for the first half of this performance, and his ‘on air/off air’ switch becomes a symbol of musical censorship. Buddy Holly (Glen Joseph), with his adorable goofiness and unwavering dedication, modestly agrees to play the country songs asked of him, but his creative intuition overspills between the live broadcasts, and we are treated to some cheeky snippets of lively rock n roll.

​          The studio scenes, that see Buddy Holly and The Crickets chipping away at their early hits, such as Everyday and Peggy Sue, add a drive and suspense to Alan Janes’ stage-play that otherwise has little substantial action. This is by no means a criticism of Janes’ writing, the play rightly gives more weight to Buddy Holly’s greatest hits than to his personal life, which results in a vibrant and lively celebration of his musical achievements. There are some slow transitions and amateurish black-outs that last a little too long, but in most parts the play moves along chirpily, sharing the quick tempo of a Buddy Holly hit.

The fourth wall is fabulously broken as the audience of this musical become the audience of a fifties ballroom dancing club, being encouraged to sing and click along, and occasionally instructed to applaud

 

​          There’s a lot to look forward to after the interval; Buddy performs at the height of his success and is joined on stage by The Big Bopper (Thomas Mitchells) and Ritchie Valens (Jordan Cunningham). The fourth wall is fabulously broken as the audience of this musical become the audience of a fifties ballroom dancing club, being encouraged to sing and click along, and occasionally instructed to applaud. It is an amalgamation of fifties rockabilly, from Buddy Holly’s Heartbeat to the Isley Brothers’ Shout, that blurs the lines between stage-play and tribute act. Cunningham’s performance of La Bamba is a highlight of this section, his energetic stage-presence and fast-moving snake-hips has everyone smiling and swaying along.

​          Despite a few melodramatic ‘shouty’ moments, some clichéd jokes that fall a little flat, and a shaky American accent from Kerry Low as Maria Elena Holly, the cast give strong performances as both actors and musicians. Glen Joseph and Josh Haberfield carry the performance, whilst Miguel Angel brightens the stage with his shimmering purple suit in the supporting role of an Apollo Performer.

​          The allusion to the tragic death of the three musicians in the plane crash of 1959 is understated and powerful. It provides the audience with a short moment of reflection before taking them back into Buddy’s live show, in what is a buoyant climax in commemoration of Buddy Holly’s musical legacy. By the time Glen Joseph strums the chords of the popular classic Johnny B Goode, half of the audience will be on their feet clapping. It is a performance for the young and the old to enjoy, and the only disappointment is that the seats cannot be moved out of the stalls, to make space for everyone to jive long into the night.

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