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Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story at New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - Review

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by Andy Coleman (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Birmingham. I like Classic Rock, 70s pop music, football and interviewing celebrities. Follow me on Twitter: @andycoleman9
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Rave On to the classic songs of a musical genius
Written in 1989 by Alan Janes, Buddy has been performed almost 6,000 times on the West End stage, toured the UK for 22 of the last 27 years and played around the world as far afield as New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States.

With the 60th anniversary of the release of Buddy Holly's first number one, That'll Be the Day, approaching, the latest trek around the UK reached Birmingham this week and, oh boy, it's easy to see why it is so popular.

Firstly, there are the great Buddy Holly songs, plus tracks by the likes of The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.

Secondly, it's an extraordinary story of a young musician who, in the space of just a few years in the 1950s, changed music forever.

And thirdly there is a terrifically talented cast, many playing multiple roles, who sing, dance and generally light up the stage with pure rock & roll energy.

Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Theatre Review, Alex Fobbester, Miguel Angel, Jordan Cunningham, Thomas Mitchells
Buddy Holly and the Crickets


The audience is taken on the journey with young Buddy (played by Alex Fobbester on the opening night in Birmingham but also portrayed by Glen Joseph at other performances) as he rebelliously plays rock & roll songs instead of country & western tunes at his local Lubbock, Texas, radio station.

Buddy appears to be Mr Nice Guy but we soon see he is determined to do things his way he refuses his manager's advice to ditch his spectacles when performing and even replaces them with a pair that are even more prominent, asks a girl to marry him just five hours after meeting her, walks out on his manager and band because he wants to take his music in a different direction and, fatally, dismisses pleas from his wife not to travel in an aircraft.

Act one chronicles the early days of Buddy Holly and the Crickets (Joe Butcher and Josh Haberfield) as they struggle to break free of the 'safe' music demanded by radio stations and Decca Records. Things get interesting when they hook-up with producer Norman Petty (Alex Tosh) who recognises that their rock & roll could prove popular. The all-night recording sessions feature snippets of what we now know are classic songs, and the audience's desire to hear the full versions of Not Fade Away, Peggy Sue, Words of Love and Oh Boy is rewarded when we see the band perform at Harlem's Apollo Theatre in August, 1957, the first white rock & roll group to do so.

Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Theatre Review, Alex Fobbester, Miguel Angel, Jordan Cunningham, Thomas Mitchells


This section of the show also includes Miguel Angel and Jordan Cunningham (pictured above) offering a fantastic song and dance version of Shout.

And so to act two, with Buddy's fame increasing but his relationship with manager and band crumbling. He meets and marries Maria Elena Santiago (Kerry Low, making her professional UK theatre debut) who, after having a nightmare of impending disaster, pleads with Buddy to tour on a bus, rather than a plane.

For the final scenes of Buddy the New Alexandra Theatre is transformed into the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa, for the Winter Dance Party, Buddy's final concert (below). We go backstage and see Buddy arranging to fly by private plane with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens to the next venue.

Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Theatre Review, Alex Fobbester, Miguel Angel, Jordan Cunningham, Thomas Mitchells


As if to confirm how much was lost when their plane crashed, Buddy concludes with a non-stop parade of hits, performed in concert. Thomas Mitchells is brilliant as The Big Bopper with Chantilly Lace (below), Jordan Cunningham is a hip-swinging Ritchie Valens with La Bamba and Alex Fobbester pulls out all the stops for Maybe Baby, Peggy Sue Got Married, Heartbeat, Raining in My Heart, It Doesn't Matter Anymore and Rave On. A concluding cast performance of Johnny B Goode received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Theatre Review, Alex Fobbester, Miguel Angel, Jordan Cunningham, Thomas Mitchells


Singer-songwriter Don McLean may have claimed that when Buddy Holly was killed in the plane crash on February 3, 1959 it was ''the day the music died'' but as long as Buddy is around new generations will discover what a genius he was.

Buddy The Buddy Holly Story 2017 UK tour dates:

Until April 1: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham;
Apr 4 8: King's Theatre, Glasgow;
Apr 27 29: Empire, Liverpool;
Apr 30 - June 3: Palace Theatre, Manchester;
June 5 10: Theatre Royal, Brighton;
June 27 July 1: Richmond Theatre, London.
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Why? Great story, terrific songs, memorable performances
When: Touring until July 1, 2017
Phone: 0844 871 3011
Where: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, then touring
Cost: 20.40 - 38.40 plus fees
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