Buddy has always been a cut above most recent juke box musicals as there is a clear narrative and many of the songs are performed like a concert within a musical. This makes a change from the Ben Elton school of ‘insert any old song here’ regardless of relevance. But are audiences prepared to step back in time to a saccharine filled world when they can watch Jerry Springer The Opera or Avenue Q - musicals with an edge?
Well, judging by the enthusiasm and standing ovations at the opening night, fans of the show love its inoffensive charm just as much as they did nearly 20 years ago in the West End. The musical follows the short lived career of the bespectacled superstar who took the music world by storm in 1957. Two years later the young heart-throb died in a plane crash alongside Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper.
All the classics like "Peggy Sue", "Oh Boy" and "True Love Ways" are sung with a real affection by Elliot Harper as the ill-fated singer. We follow his brief rise to stardom, his love affair with Maria Elena (Carina Gillespie) and his world famous gigs. The great thing about the musical is that it perfectly captures the atmosphere of a live gig complete with audience participation and guitar solos.
The main problem here, though, is that despite being shown how great the man was, the show lacks that vital "Heartbeat" that Buddy himself sang about all those years ago. For instance, following the announcement of his death we quickly return to another toe tapping tune, thus removing the poignancy that has kept musicals like Blood Brothers alive.
Rob Bettinson’s uneven direction and book mean that the second half contains the sense of urgency the first act lacks. And the characterisation is cardboard and emotionless.
Of the cast members Debbralee and Ann- Marie Roberts as the Apollo singers inject humour and star quality into the piece and their energy reverberates round the theatre.
Adrian Rees' set is cleverly designed via its use of shadowed characters although it seems too small for the vast expanse of the touring venues. But with a huge back catalogue of hits Buddy wins over its loyal audience even if it is only during the rousing concert scenes.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Lowry, Salford Quays)