Gus MacGregor brings a contagious enthusiasm to the title role in the new touring version of Buddy, a show so exciting the audience seems to be willing the music to go on for ever. Of course, this can't happen. The lonely guitar positioned in front of the closed curtains tells us that Buddy Holly is gone from our world for good, even though, nearly a half a century after his death in a plane crash, his music can still get people on their feet and dancing in the aisles.
This rollicking tribute is not so much a musical, more a complete discography of one of rock'n'roll's foremost pioneers. Holly's music was inspired and inspirational, yet his career spanned a heartbreakingly short period of time. In just 18 months, he wrote and recorded dozens of enduring titles, not least "Raining in My Heart", "It's So Easy", "Peggy Sue", "Heartbeat", "Maybe Baby" and "Everyday", each one of them destined to become a classic, directly influencing many of today's pop artists.
After a first act that's a little plodding, with tardy cues and sluggish action, Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson's show hots up, buoyed along by some superb musical performances. MacGregor's performance throughout is energetic and captivating. Just when you think he must be nearing total exhaustion, he embarks upon yet another no-holds-barred rockabilly number.
With virtuoso performances of "Chantilly Lace" from Jaymz Denning's Big Bopper and "La Bamba" from Ritchie Valens à la Ricky Rojas (a more pliable pelvis would be hard to come by!), and a big band backing Buddy in his last concert scene, the audience is simply unable to resist joining in. By the finale, the audience is screaming for more - genuinely this time, rather than being drummed up by an unconvincing MC with a rather unfortunate accent for Clear Lake, Iowa - jigging, clapping and singing along to "Rave On", "Not Fade Away" and "Oh Boy". Just one amazing hit after another.
A pseudo-karaoke rendition of "That'll Be the Day" sends the audience on its way, sadly remembering the "day the music died" but ecstatic to have been reminded of it. Small wonder that this enormously entertaining show ran for nearly 13 years in the West End. Based on this regional reaction, I'd say it's got that much more mileage and then some left in it yet.
- Annie Dawes (reviewed at Plymouth's Theatre Royal)