Buddy Holly the doomed star whose mercurial genius underpins the history of rock ‘n’ roll

Glen Joseph (centre) as Buddy Holly with two of the previous actors to play the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens
Glen Joseph (centre) as Buddy Holly with two of the previous actors to play the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story

This phenomenal show has been on the road for 25 years now. It has zig-zagged the world and been seen by a staggering 22 million people.  It’s a superbly packaged  piece of musical theatre telling the true rags to riches story of Buddy Holly, the boy from small-town Texas who in little more than 18 months back in the late 1950s, rewrote the history of popular music, scoring a raft of inimitable hits and soaring to unimaginable success before dying in a plane crash on a snow-swept night in February 1959. Also aboard that fateful flight – trying to make it through the blizzard-battered Mid-West to the next gig – were his fellow bill-toppers The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. They were the pop superstars of their day. No wonder Don McLean immortalised the tragedy in song as  “the day the music died”.

It is this heady combination of high-energy musical, bitter-sweet rags to riches success and a tragic ending that gives this show its enduring appeal. An excellent cast, zip-along direction and the heart-stoppingly perfect Buddy Holly soundtrack just seals the deal. Glen Joseph is a charismatic Buddy. All geeky charm with his horn-rimmed specs and headstrong self-belief, he takes the audience on a roller-coaster ride of wonder and nostalgia as together with his band, The Crickets, he outsmarts the beasts of the music business and becomes a star.

With a unique fusion of country, blues and rockabilly he develops a sound that redefines popular music, confounds the critics and leaves us with classic songs like Thatll Be The Day, Oh Boy, Rave On, Peggy Sue, True Love Ways, Maybe Baby, Everyday, Words of Love, Not Fade Away. An astonishing output and a massively influential one too. Both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones included Holly covers in their early acts. The Stones first top ten hit was Not Fade Away and as Paul McCartney once remarked: “Without Buddy Holly there would have been no Beatles”. Even the name of the band was a kind of tribute to The Crickets.

With The Crickets, Holly  established the template for a self-contained band writing and producing  its own material. His experimental work in the studio with Norman Petty would be echoed a few years later by The Beatles and George Martin. The Buddy Holly Story may not deliver genuine cutting edge rock ‘n’ roll. These guys are actor/musicians. But the tale  is a  compelling one with a tear-jerking sub-plot about Maria Elena – the widowed bride  he left behind just six months after marrying her. And the musical illusion is complete enough to have the audience dancing in their seats, singing along, utterly transported. But the best thing is that we all know that when Buddy’s plane went down, the music didn’t die. It lives on and, more than anything else,  this show capitalises on that glorious fact.

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story plays Lighthouse, Poole, until Saturday 23 November. Shows 7.45pm each evening and additional 2.30pm matinees on Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets & information 0844 406 8666 www.lighthousepoole.co.uk

Jeremy Miles


Author: Jeremy Miles

Writer, journalist, photographer, arts and theatre critic and occasional art historian.

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