It is misleading to call this play, as the promoters do, the 'Buddy Holly story'. It is even slightly misleading to call it a play. It would be more accurately dubbed a tribute concert to Buddy Holly. And if you're a Buddy Holly fan, that's fine. Even if you're not, you'll be tempted to go out and buy a Holly compendium CD.
Did you know that Holly's musical career lasted only three years and that, in that time, he wrote and recorded one hundred songs? Well, the play's author Alan Janes certainly knew and he's determined to pack as many Holly hits as possible into one evening. Only the barest bones of the story of Holly's rise to fame are touched on in the mad rush to make time for more music.
In the second act, for instance, Buddy shoots to fame, gets married and splits from the Crickets. All this happens in a matter of minutes as the bulk of the act is devoted to rehashing Holly's last concert. After the curtain falls on Clear Lake, there's only the briefest pause - a spotlight on his lone guitar and a voice-over announcing his death in a plane crash - before the curtain swoops up again for a few forced encores. We're robbed of any possible emotion for the premature death of such a huge talent.
Some of the musical performances here are very good. Angus MacGregor plays a toothy and pleasantly melodic Buddy. John Simon Rawlings is a boomingly charismatic as the Big Bopper. And Ricky Zalez, although a surprisingly old and barrel-chested Ritchie Valens, La Bambas better than most.
The music - combined with the many efforts to drum up audience participation - had theatre-goers toe-tapping and thigh-slapping and several jumping up in the aisles to dance (as if?) on cue. There is obviously a fun and rollicking evening to be had here for those in the mood. But overall, this play lacks depth and doesn't allow any opportunity to get to know or care about the characters as anything more than props for the music. In addition, beneath the drums and smiles, the entire production - from the set to the costumes to many of the players - is looking extremely flat and tired after eight years on the trot.
Terri Paddock, July 1997