Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Buddy @ New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 14th November

Given that his career lasted less than the average world tour these days it’s remarkable that Buddy Holly’s still packing ‘em in half a century after his untimely death. Amazingly the musical based on his life and songs is now into its 23rd year, beating the meagre 22 years that Buddy lived. So what’s the appeal? Why does a skinny be-spectacled kid from Lubbock, Texas deserve his place in the rock n’roll hall of fame? Well, it’s simple. Within the space of a few months he practically invented it (albeit thanks to the huge influence of dudes like Bo Diddley). It’s probably quite hard to imagine just what a kick in the crotch rock n’roll was back in the 50’s but with it came the invention of the 'teenager' and a huge surge of adrenaline that gave us (one way or another) everyone from The Beatles and The Stones to The Pistols.

Short of actually inventing a time travelling De Lorean it’s impossible to catch Buddy Holly live but, in the absence of that, this blistering run through the DNA of rock and pop does a fine job. Ostensibly it’s a ‘jukebox musical’, there to showcase the hits, but there’s a brief story of Buddy’s life weaved in between to give a bit of an insight into the dude who gave us That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy, Rave On, Not Fade Away...each one a classic, part of the fabric of our musical heritage. This current touring version of the show perfectly captures that raw energy of these early singles, sweaty, hormone soaked and, in retrospect, surprisingly punky and rebellious. There’s a particularly powerful moment near the start of the show when Buddy and the Crickets are in a studio to record one of the typical Country & Western tunes that were the staple of the American music biz at that time. After a few lines Buddy and the boys suddenly launch into Rip It Up and you get that same shiver of excitement that teens no doubt felt over 60 years ago.

The set’s made up of a giant montage of ad images from 50’s America, a simple but incredibly effective way of transporting you back in time and some swift roll on/roll off mini sets do a neat job of recreating the claustrophobic atmosphere of those tiny recording studios where Buddy and the band worked...often for days and nights on end to nail that illusive perfect take. Roger Rowley (one of two actors taking the lead role during this tour) captured that sense of energy and ambition that Buddy had, truly rocking out like a man (albeit unknowingly) facing his last days on earth throughout the show. Melissa Keyes’ delightfully OTT performance as an Apollo Theatre performer added a lovely touch of humour and Miguel Angel and Steve Dorsett both got the crowd rocking as Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper respectively. The whole cast put in 100% though and as you’d expect from a show that’s been running, in one form or another, for nearly a quarter of a century there’s little you could find fault with. The one observation, and perhaps it’s an odd thing to mention in some ways, is the demographic of the audience. The show seemed (tonight certainly) to attract an older crowd, familiar with the music from first time round I’m guessing. Nothing wrong with that of course but it would be a shame if Buddy’s music remained the preserve of just one generation. This stuff’s timeless and, with a cast as ‘up for it’ as this lot, anyone with ears should grab a ticket whilst Buddy’s still in town. A ‘Holly' (someone's already nicked "Buddy brilliant" and "Peggy Sue-perb"...that's as good as I get) good night out for the whole family in fact.

Buddy is at the New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until Saturday 19th November.

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