I had the pleasure of attending the highly anticipated UK tour of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at Stoke’s Regent Theatre, and I must say it was a truly memorable experience. The grandeur of the theatre itself added to the excitement, creating an atmosphere that was brimming with anticipation and nostalgia.
As the curtains rose, the audience was immediately swept away by the infectious energy emanating from the stage. The lively performances and the sheer enthusiasm of the crowd set the tone for an evening filled with toe-tapping music and in-seat dancing.
The set design of the production was visually captivating, with a clever use of fabrics that dropped down to cover the pre-set. This created a sense of anticipation and added a layer of intrigue to each scene. However, there were minor flaws in execution. At one point, a blue fabric was brought down to cover the set, but a perpendicular set piece was not fully covered, resulting in a corner sticking out and detracting from the overall aesthetic. There were moments when the show relied on extended blackouts to bring props on and off the stage, which unfortunately disrupted the flow of the performance and felt slightly clunky.
The true star of the show, Buddy Holly, was portrayed by AJ Jenks on the evening I attended. Jenks delivered a stellar performance, capturing the essence of Buddy Holly with remarkable authenticity. From his distinctive voice to his trademark glasses and iconic guitar-playing, Jenks embodied the spirit of the legendary musician with remarkable precision. His stage presence was magnetic, and he effortlessly commanded the audience’s attention throughout the entire show. Every note he sang was filled with passion and conviction, leaving no doubt that he was the perfect choice for the role.
Miguel Angel, who portrayed Ritchie Valens and Tyrone Jones, brought an incredible energy to the stage. His charisma and stage presence were infectious, and his rendition of “La Bamba” had the entire audience on their feet, joyously dancing along. Angel’s vocal prowess was truly impressive, capturing the spirit of Ritchie Valens and bringing his music to life in a way that paid tribute to the late musician’s legacy.
Christopher Chandler’s portrayal of J.P. Richardson, also known as ‘the Big Bopper,’ was a blend of lively acting and powerful vocals. Chandler embraced the larger-than-life persona of the Big Bopper with gusto, delivering a performance that was both cartoon-esque and highly entertaining. His vocal abilities were undeniable, and his renditions of the Big Bopper’s hits were met with enthusiastic applause from the audience.
Stephanie Cremona, Samuelle Durojaiye, Laura-Dene Perryman, and Daniella Agredo Piper, who played Vi Petty, Marlena Madison, Chantel Williams, and Maria Elena respectively, were all standout performers in their own right. Their exceptional vocal talents added depth and richness to the show, elevating the overall experience. Each of them showcased remarkable range and versatility, captivating the audience with their performances.
However, despite the stellar performances by the cast, the narrative of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story had some notable flaws. Rather than presenting a cohesive story, the production felt more like a series of Buddy Holly songs being performed, with major parts of Holly’s life mentioned in passing. For example, the departure of the Crickets was mentioned in a sentence, lacking the development and exploration it deserved. The focus of the show predominantly centred around Buddy’s performances, leaving little room for significant character development or a deeper exploration of his personal journey. Supporting characters, such as Buddy’s mother, were relegated to reported speech from other characters, leaving a gap in the storytelling and preventing a more nuanced understanding of Buddy’s relationships and the impact they had on his life.
Matt Salisbury’s direction had moments of repetition, with several scenes staged identically in Act 2. While this approach might have been intended as an homage to Buddy Holly’s music, it did not fully satisfy the expectation of a musical billed as a comprehensive narrative of his life. A more varied and dynamic staging could have further enhanced the storytelling aspect of the production.
One aspect that truly stood out in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story was the music itself. The strength of the performers and the actor-muso nature of the cast brought Buddy Holly’s timeless songs to life in a remarkable way. Every song was delivered with precision and passion, paying homage to the legendary musician’s talent and leaving a lasting impact on the audience. Dean Elliott’s musical direction played a significant role in enhancing the overall performance, ensuring that the music remained the standout star of the show.
The sound design incorporated retro microphones, which added a delightful nostalgic touch to the production. However, there were moments when the microphones obscured the faces of the singers, affecting the visibility of their expressions and connection with the audience. The lighting design, for the most part, effectively set the mood and accentuated key moments on stage. However, there were instances where a series of flashing lights illuminated the backdrop for several numbers, which, while visually striking, felt slightly repetitive.
Choreography, where utilised, was a welcome addition to the show, further enhancing the performances and adding another layer of entertainment. The well-executed dance moves added a dynamic and visually pleasing element, complementing the music and capturing the spirit of the era.
In conclusion, the UK tour of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at Stoke’s Regent Theatre provided an enjoyable and nostalgic evening for fans of Buddy Holly’s music. While the narrative had its shortcomings and the staging had minor flaws, the outstanding performances, particularly AJ Jenks as Buddy Holly, and the unforgettable music brought the spirit of Buddy Holly to life on stage. The infectious energy, captivating vocals, and the actor-muso nature of the cast ensured an engaging and entertaining experience that had the audience on their feet, singing along and relishing the magic of Buddy’s music once again.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story runs until Sat 1st July 2023 at Stoke’s Regent Theatre and then continues to tour. Tickets available here.