Theatre Review: BUDDY – THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY – The Lowry, Salford

Despite its lacklustre plot, BUDDY – THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY makes for an enjoyable evening thanks to its talented cast and glorious soundtrack

3 out of 5 stars

When BUDDY – THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY opened in London in 1989, it was one of the earliest examples of the now wildly popular jukebox musical. 30 years later, the musical is back on tour to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

The show tells the story of Buddy Holly’s rise to fame and his 18 months of stardom before his tragic death.

Set between January 1956 and February 1959, BUDDY – THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY tells the true story of Buddy Holly’s meteoric rise to fame from the moment he hit the airwaves in 1957 with THAT’LL BE THE DAY until his tragic death less than two years later.

With AJ Jenks expertly taking on the role of Buddy, the cast is made up of a group of immensely talented actor-musicians. Most of the instruments onstage are played live and it really is impressive to see these actors give fun, energetic performances all whilst skillfully playing their instruments. The cast also work wonderfully together and there’s a real sense of chemistry and friendship filling this production, which only makes it all the more fun to experience.

The show is filled with all of Buddy’s hits, such as PEGGY SUE, EVERYDAY and TRUE LOVE WAYS, but also has some other hits of the time, such as LA BAMBA and JOHNNY B. GOODE. The cast does a great job of capturing the rock and roll vibe and the audience couldn’t stop themselves singing along at times!

However, the plot feels a bit thin at times. Most of the second act is spent recreating Buddy’s last ever gig in Iowa on the night of his death, to the point where the audience has to sit through a struggling compere, a bad rendition of the American national anthem and an awkward acapella group before getting to the actual performance – all at the expense of the plot. It feels like this time could have been spent taking a further look into Buddy’s marriage to Maria Elena (Hannah Price) or the money hardships he faced which forced him onto that tour in the first place. As a result, we never really get to know Buddy or his life.

Fans of JERSEY BOYS may also notice a few similarities. It’s obvious that JERSEY BOYS has taken a few pointers from BUDDY, but whilst JERSEY BOYS still feels fresh and slick – even in its 15th year – BUDDY is beginning to show its age, with a small cast and dated jokes. Nevertheless, it’s the music that really shines in this production and it is amazing to hear all these classic songs live.

It is also incredibly heartbreaking when the curtain falls and a single spotlight reveals Buddy’s guitar as a radio announcement confirms that Buddy has died at the young age of 22, along with his friends J.P Richardson, better known as The Big Bopper (Joshua Barton), and Richie Valens (Ben Pryer) who was just 17. The plane crash was famously referred to as “The Day the Music Died” in Don McLean’s 1971 song AMERICAN PIE.

Despite its lacklustre plot, BUDDY – THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY makes for an enjoyable evening and is a must-see for fans of Buddy Holly, as well as classic Rock ‘n’ Roll music. It really is great fun to watch with the audience up on their feet dancing and singing along at the curtain call – a sure sign of a good night.

BUDDY – THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY runs at The Lowry, Salford until 1 February 2020.