Written and Produced by Alan Janes
Directed by Matt Salisbury
The one thing many of us long for is to leave an impact.
So, to have the titular role in a smash-hit musical concert experience which has, for over thirty years, entertained over twenty-two million people might speak to the volume of support, adoration, and appreciation that Buddy Holly still possess over audiences. Returning to Edinburgh, at the Festival Theatre, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story offers a snapshot of the expansive library of classics which he and The Crickets produced over a tiny span in the scheme of Rock n’ Roll.
Even for the uninitiated, the music of Holly has the unique ability few others do in transcending time. The recognisable hits of Everyday, Peggy Sue and True Love Ways remain a firm part of the cultural zeitgeist for those born long after the loss of Holly following a plane crash, which also took the lives of Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper J. P. Richardson and the plane’s pilot, Roger Peterson.
The truth is, the real stars of the production are the music, the lyrics, the legacy and the moves of the mid-fifties which survive. Buddy rebukes the usual Jukebox flavour of biographical interpretation, instead traversing his music catalogue, offering peppers of character and comedy along the way to build substance around the score. For a touring production, originating from a West End home, undoubtedly the familiarity of the roles begins to switch on autopilot. It’s a consequence of the production’s morph into a concert-style musical which sets the traditional arc of storytelling and character to the wings, to serve up the audience’s desire: music, heaps of it.
That said, the energetic enthusiasm that continues to emanate from AJ Jenks in the titular role secures the production’s key asset with a fabulous range of vocals and a bottomless pit of natural charm and joie de vivre. Jenks captures a young man at the beginning of his long thought-out rise through stardom and moulding of Rock n’ Roll. A man who has no idea that his impact on this earth will be so large, in such a reserved span of time, Jenks performs entirely within the moment.
But that’s not to say the rest of the boys aren’t pulling their weight – as Joe Butcher bounces and swings around their double bass with an eye-watering display of agility, bringing as much life and energy to the room as the bellowing fans from the stalls. Filling out the rest of the Crickets, Buddy’s band mates, are Josh Haberfield and Christopher Weeks as Jerry Allison and Niki Sullivan, both of whom do sterling work in supporting Jenks while retaining a playful sense of their character on Adrian Rees’ brightly lit, and simple stage design with middling black-put scene changes.
Costume plays a significant role in conveying the sense of time, Thomas Mitchell’s multiple comedic roles benefit from quick changes to provide a wide range of managers, club presenters and DJ hosts with a broad range of skills. Our time spent at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem comes with the tremendous vocal talents of Samuelle Durojaiye and Laura-Dune Perryman as Apollo performers Marlena Madison and Chantel Williams.
Likely a result of the tragedy of Buddy’s life being cut so short, the narrative has less development in terms of building connections to those surrounding him – with the cost of less time spent with Buddy’s wife, Maria Elena played by Daniella Agredo Piper. There’s no depth to the relationship, a real bummer, given the pair’s chemistry, and Agredo Piper’s peppy and engaging presence.
It also means that the bombastic presence of Christopher Chandler’s Big Bopper only has time for one tremendous performance fires-up the audience. But not even Jenks can charge the audience quite as much as Miguel Angel’s superb rendition of Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba. To see a transition of the audience, to go from mild humming and bobbing along to thunderous applause and a rejuvenation occurring before your eyes is a staggering feat and an undeniable admittance for those who may not find personal enjoyment from the production.
The music lives on, never-ending, encapsulating the legacy of a man who left the world far too soon. It’s difficult not to carry away with you an appreciation of life, and the shortness of it all, even a pang of guilt knowing Holly was only twenty-two at the time of the accident. There’s an inevitable tenderness in the final moments before the thunderous finale, which serves a bittersweet note of realism for audiences who carry with them a song in their heart, but an appreciation in their minds upon leaving. Buddy, as a tribute, as a show, carries a beautiful sense of valuing music and life: to grasp the opportunity to create whenever we can. A fun, rowdy, and guaranteed night of enjoyment for Buddy-ing newcomers and enthusiasts looking to Rave On all night.
The Music Lives On
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story runs at The Festival Theatre until March 18th. Tuesday – Saturday at 19.30pm. Thursday and Saturday at 14.30pm.
Running Time – Two hours and thirty-five minutes including interval. Suitable for ages 12+
Tickets begin from £19.50. Concessions are available, and tickets may be obtained here.