Paul McCartney remarked that without Buddy Holly there would have been no Beatles, so it’s no wonder his short but rich creative life was one of the first jukebox musicals.
Unlike many jukebox musicals who bolt on ludicrous storylines to shoehorn the hits in, Alan Janes’ book is a straight run from his early days in Lubbock Texas as he rejects the country music establishment to become one of first rock and roll stars who wrote his own smash hit songs.
And what tunes he wrote in a white hot eighteen months of creativity before his untimely death aged only 22. Listen to the pure pop energy of Peggy Sue and you can see what Macca meant, or the delicate beauty of Raining In My Heart hinting at what might have been if he’d not boarded that fateful flight with Big Bopper and Richie Valens.
AJ Jenks manages the tricky balance of Holly as the geeky Christian Texas boy and the single minded artist who was one of the first to realise the power of the recording studio in shaping hits. Oh, and he was the first million selling artist to wear specs onstage. All Buddy’s are expected to play the songs live as Jenks throws his Stratocaster around like a star, and nails Holly’s distinctive hiccupping vocal style without losing all the clever dynamics in his best work.
The Crickets were an essential part of his sound and Jenks is backed by Joe Butcher who manhandles his upright bass round the stage with impressive dexterity, and Josh Huberman as drummer Jerry Allison holds it all down well. Special mention to the tireless Thomas Mitchells who plays a number of different roles central to the story with great charm and pinpoint accents.
Given where Holly’s life ended there could be air of melancholy, but there’s plenty of laughs along the way, including a very funny scene as the terrified Crickets become the first white act to play The Apollo Theatre in Harlem before winning over the audience instead of getting chased offstage
The second half takes a slight detour to Holly’s marriage, but it’s mainly focused on his fateful final gig in the midst of a snowstorm in Iowa in 1959. It does feel slightly padded, but it is a showcase for all the talented musicians on show to belt out more of Holly’s hits, which is exactly what people have paid to hear.
It says something about a show that has been a worldwide hit for two decades that the genius of Buddy Holly can still bring an audience to their feet at the end.
The Buddy Holly Story is at Alhambra Theatre Bradford until Saturday 17th June. To book 01274 432500.
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 13th June 2023
North West End UK Rating: