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The Buddy Holly Story Review


The Bristol Hippodrome – Monday 2nd – Saturday 7th June

In 18 short months Texas-born Charles Hardin Holley was pivotal in revolutionising the face of contemporary music. The Buddy Holly Story tells a tale of the musical icon’s meteoric rise to fame and his final legendary performance at the Surf Ballroom in Iowa, before his tragic and untimely death at the age of 22. 


In 1956 Buddy Holly and the Crickets are becoming a regular feature on the local radio station’s ‘Sunday Party’.  

A DJ hosts from his sound desk above the performers on stageWe join the show’s audience, invited to applaud and then be silent via a hand held cue-card and are treated to the 1950s radio experience, complete with washing powder ads, sung harmoniously between acts. An ‘On air’ sign illuminates and slow and sleepy Country and Western music, the order of the day, begins.

When Buddy and the band notch it up a few gears, breaking into a fast and furious Rock ‘n’ Roll number, it’s easy to see how shocking or exciting this energetic music would have been, depending on your stand point. (My parents were in their teens when they first heard ‘skiffle’ and ‘rock and roll’ and they assure me that, in stark contrast to the tame ballads which had been popular before, you just couldn’t help but jump up and dance to this infectious new music.) After this unexpected musical outburst, the DJ apologises profusely to his audience.

In 1956 Buddy gets the amazing chance of a recording contract with Decca, but his strong ideas aren’t always well received. Described by the manager as “unique. but not in a good way”, Buddy struggles to cope with a boss dictating how he should perform his music and the partnership fails.
He also puts his foot down when asked to conform to the norm and remove his glasses to perform. His reaction is to don an even thicker pair, which of course became his statement  ‘look’ and has been emulated since by the likes of Elvis Costello and Jarvis Cocker.
Buddy the Musical
He finds his comfort zone at the more experimental Norvajak studios where his new manager Norman Petty is excited by the band’s talent,
“The boys are good”
and we see them record one great track after another, pulling all nighters to squeeze more in.
They become successful and their tour takes them to the Apollo theatre in Harlem.  Apollo performers Lydia Fraser and Miguel Angel create a great showy vibe here and Lydia’s voice in ‘shout’ is strong and absolutely stunning. The pair are shocked to discover a ‘whitey’ reporter backstage and having had no idea what they looked like before, shriek when the Crickets appear:
“It’s a goddam epidemic!”
But of course the band wins the all black audience over too.
We follow the story as Buddy falls in love and marries Maria Elena Santiago in a whirlwind romance.
The ambitious Holly becomes interested in the New York music scene and after falling out with his manager over his failure to make royalty payments, he splits with both the studio and The Crickets.
In need of some income, he joins the Winter Dance Party tour across the Midwest. His final performance is at the Surf Ballroom in Iowa, a showy all American big band type of concert, where he also sings alongside Ricky Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper”. We learn that, after the show, the three musicians are to board a chartered plane, which takes off despite blizzard conditions. . . . and the rest, unfortunately, is history.


Sets are convincing and scene changes smooth and seamless throughout, from the 1950s radio shows to the Apollo theatre.


It’s hard to believe these rebellious musicians were so smart but yes, they really were neatly attired in suits and the costumes throughout look authentic. 


Buddy Holly is one of those performers whose name I know well, but I’m never certain which songs he sang. During this show I’d hear a song and think, “Ooh I love this one”  and the next and the next. In fact Buddy includes over 20 of his hits, including That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy and Rave On. 
The Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba are also featured.
The music is so good, it’s a bit of a nuisance that propriety dictates that we remained seated in the theatre! We had to make do with plenty of foot tapping, thigh slapping and singing along to the familiar tunes.


The show is great fun. Many instruments are experimented with during the record production, but the huge bass is virtually a constant. It’s played live, used as a seat, a step and is sometimes lifted in the air like a dance partner. My boys always enjoy some acrobatics and the bass antics didn’t disappoint.


BuddyOnBass(DeanElliot and GregLast) copy
I can’t quite claim to vouch for the 8 to 80 age range, but three generations of our family watched this show and we all loved it. For my parents it brought back vivid memories of dancing as teenagers at church socials. For my boys much of the music was experienced for the first time, but I’m sure it won’t be the last. Me? I struggled to keep still!


Since watching the show I’ve been keen to find out more about this amazing musician’s life. I’ve done a lot of reading and assumed that if I googled him it would be a fairly simple matter to find some clips of his controversial performances, but actually there’s very little to be found and most of what there is seems to be poor quality home movie footage or smiles to the camera as the band boarded a plane. I did manage to find this clip from a 1957 airing of The Arthur Murray Dance Party which gives a taste to us young ‘uns of how alien the concept of rock and roll really was to the mainstream media.

It made me feel extraordinarily sad that such a prolific and creative composer had such a short life which came to such a premature end. You’d think that the show might reflect that feeling but in fact its vibe is totally the opposite. I found myself singing along (apologies to other audience members), drumming along on my lap and enthusiastically dancing around during the standing ovation at the end.

Roger Rowley was a superb Buddy Holly, Jason Blackwater was fabulously larger than life as The Big Bopper and Lydia Fraser was show stoppingly good as the Apollo performer.

Great music. Great musicians. Great show. Thoroughly recommend it. I’d happily watch it again.




The Buddy Holly Story

Monday 2nd – Saturday 7th June

Evenings at 7.30 pm

Matinees on Wed & Sat at 2.30 pm

Tickets: £12.90 – £36.40

Concessions available at certain performances




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West Side Story

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White Christmas





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