“Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story ” has now been touring for twenty five years , celebrating the songs of an artist whose recording career lasted barely two years, but whose music endures some fifty six years after his untimely and tragic death. A jukebox musical, the two halves mainly comprise his rise to fame and studio work in the first half, and an extended concert sequence in the second.
Dan Ankatell takes the eponymous, demanding, lead role , which requires a performer who can sing, act, play competent electric lead guitar, as well as have a passing resemblance to Buddy Holly himself. Angular and enthusiastic, Ankatell is credible and lively in the part, ably supported by a large chorus for the big numbers. His confidence grew as the night unfolded, dealing with a faulty guitar connection at one point with an ease that Buddy himself would have smiled at.
The plot fairly thinly joins the dots between the music, but it is the songs which star. They have transcended their late fifties origins to become standards which by a process of cultural osmosis are as fresh now as they were when written. Rock n roll aficionados will feel the tradition has been well represented, new generations continue to sign up to the cause.
Amongst numerous satisfying cameos, Helen Simon delights as Maria Elena, hotter than a desert at midday, and with a convincing Latin accent. Pete Beck marvellously milked the part of the Big Bopper for all it was worth ,and Tony Orbell injected some vital energy and pace into the Clearlake concert sequence. Dave Hill also made the most of scheming producer Norman Petty .Of the dancers, Sally-Jane Adams consistently caught the eye with her dynamism, brio, and crisp movement.
The Garrick’s stage was packed to capacity by the cast which at its peak numbered over fifty . A Spartan, but versatile, set which incorporates recording studios, concert halls, radio stations, and living space, provided a fitting sense of occasion, culminating in the theatre stage becoming a concert stage.
There is no secret to this show’s success and longevity, the songs are very strong. Contemporary hits “Shout”, “ La Bamba” and “Johnny B Goode” flesh out the Holly numbers, offering variety, shade and musical context. Musical Director Sheila Pearson does a good job utilising her considerable chorus providing a new dimension to songs whose original arrangements were quite sparse. Choreographer Maggie Jackson has no shortage of willing dancers whom she manages both to squeeze on stage, and squeeze the best out of.
Veteran Director Lynne Hill is a safe pair of hands for a show like this with an impressive roll call of successful past productions to her name. Her strengths lie in her technical proficiency and vision for the big set pieces, skills which were pleasingly on display for this accomplished production. A full opening night house was thrilled by the show during which the “magic programme” winner hailed, improbably , not from Sutton Coldfield, Lichfield or Clearlake, but Guatemala! “Buddy” runs until Saturday 6th June .