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Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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When Buddy last played in London it was bang in the middle of the West End (at the Duchess) with its name in lights, so it comes as some surprise to find it restaged above a pub in Highgate Village. But Upstairs at the Gatehouse is one of the better established fringe theatres and director John Plews, one half of Ovation Theatres, has a pulled off a show that would rival any West End production.

The story spans from Buddy’s beginnings as one member of the Crickets, a struggling band in Texas, fighting to keep his creativity, through to his rapid rise to success and finally the last concert before his tragically premature death in 1959.

The small venue works particularly well for the recording scenes. In the bigger scenes such as the concerts at the Apollo and Clearlake it feels as though you’ve been lucky enough to get to the front of the crowd. Set designer Fi Russell has used the stage very well. Placing the radio cubicles above the stage to be spotlighted when needed is a masterstroke and used to great effect when conveying Buddy Holly and the Crickets' rise in the charts.

There are a few standout performances from the multi-talented cast. Andrew Ashford as Hipockets is perfect; he manages to be funny whilst conveying real affection towards the young Buddy. Furthermore his narration as the Texan DJ/manager locates you firmly in the '50s. Jason Blackwater’s Big Bopper is fantastic and his performance of Chantilly Lace at Clearlake is one of the best of the night.

Roger Rowley has the difficult task of portraying Buddy Holly. He is clearly a talented musician and his singing as Buddy is spot on for most of the show. In the ‘on stage’ Buddy performances he manages not only to imitate his unique voice, but also his mannerisms. ‘Off stage’ he is less convincing. There are a couple of moments of supposedly high drama, which instead seem a little flat. But there are some affectionate moments between him and Emily Altneau’s Maria Elena Holly.

The rest of the cast, who play several instruments, as well as several parts each, really shine in the musical numbers where they are allowed to let loose. The joyful energy at the end when the stage erupts with music is so infectious that it will have the audience, many of whom may remember Holly’s music when it was in the charts, dancing along.

The Buddy Holly Story was never meant to be a faithful biography but a fun celebration of the legend's incredible music. If you love Buddy Holly, if you love rock and roll, you will love this.

- Joanna Ing


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