In an all-too brief career Buddy Holly gave the world some truly memorable tunes and "Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story" is a tribute to that music if nothing else and features a cast who all sing and play musical instruments live.
Charting Buddy Holly's rise to fame, together with the other members of 'The Crickets', in the world of the new fangled sound of Rock'n'Roll in the 1950s, the script by Alan Janes is not a greatly detailed affair but it does also make mention of his marriage, solo endeavours and his fame with a no-nonsense approach that is filled throughout with humour. As a thorough biography it leaves a lot to be desired but its strength lies in the ability to give just enough contextual information within a scene to make the musical numbers that follow all the more satisfying. The presence of a script also allows this production to be more than a simple tribute show; empowering performances with an emotional resonance that each musical number builds upon. Even if it's not a deep psychological study of the trials and tribulations of a gifted musical artist, it is an honest, straightforward story told with sincerity.
Whilst the set design is somewhat shabby it serves its purpose allowing a seemingly huge amount of space to be available whilst creating various locales featured in Holly's life. Lighting is serviceable but much better use is made of it during the musical numbers.
Matt Salisbury's direction is found wanting in places amongst the dialogue scenes but his presentations of the musical numbers are pretty much on the money and these are where the show really comes alive. That's not to say that the dialogue scenes are redundant - quite the opposite; being witness to the backstage, personal aspects of Buddy's life makes the audience all the more invested in each musical number that is performed by him and his cohorts and takes those performances to a higher level.
There are non-Holly numbers performed in the production and these are also strong with Lydia Fraser threatening to steal the scenes in which she appears as an 'Apollo Performer' whilst Adam Flynn and Scott Haining (as 'Jerry Allison' and 'Joe B Mauldin', respectively) are excellent support for the main man with Jason Blackwater and Will Pearce memorable in the roles of 'The Big Bopper' and 'Ritchie Valens'. But as 'Buddy Holly' Roger Rowley embodies the attitude, charisma and talent of a true star and his vocals are quite divine (he alternates the role with Glen Joseph) and his stage presence is mesmerising - even a guitar fault in his first number (that's live theatre for you!) couldn't phase him.
Although Act One started off a little fragile it built throughout to end triumphantly at the 'Apollo Theatre, Harlem' whilst Act Two was a supernova of energy - albeit with a slight dip as we get to the 'Surf Ballroom' - and that energy is soon ramped up even further culminating in an effective and striking finale at Holly's final concert at 'Clear Lake' at which point the audience was in raptures.
It is comforting to know that great live entertainment is still out there and that great music can still reach an audience in the technologically-driven music market of today. Such entertainment deserves its audience.
But then the music never really dies, does it?