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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Buddy
Strand Theatre 1989-2002; Duchess Theatre 2007-2009

Buddy was one of the first of a string of mostly forgettable biography-musicals and inexplicably ran for 14 years in London after lasting about a season on Broadway. One can only credit its tourist-friendly nature for this, since there is little else to praise.

Since most of the audience wasn't born when the show opened, much less when Buddy was alive, a brief history lesson may be in order. Buddy Holly was a Texas teen who started a trio in his home town in the 1950s and had a string of rock-n-roll hits. Unusually for the first r-n-r generation, he wrote his own songs, and was very parent-friendly - he wore suits and looked like a member of the chess club.

He was killed in a light airplane crash in 1959, along with Ritchie Valens, a Mexican-American singer who had a crossover hit with La Bamba, and The Big Bopper, an older radio DJ who talk-sang his way in a kind of proto-rap through a novelty record called Chantilly Lace with what seemed at the time the highly suggestive tag "Oh baby, you kno-o-o-o-w what I like."

The show walks us through Buddy's not very dramatic story - forming the band, becoming a hit, getting married - and there is a feeling of very little material being stretched very thin. The dramaturgy is elementary, with little in the way of characterization, insight or wit, and much of the music comes in 20-second recorded snippets as radio DJs are used to link scenes.

Frankly, the show is pretty lame for three-quarters of its length. It isn't until the last half-hour, when the amplification is goosed up to pain-threshold levels for a recreation of Buddy's final performance, that things start rocking. The onstage band is good, and the uninterrupted raw rock-n-roll might, on a particularly good night, justify the sign in the theatre lobby prohibiting dancing in the aisles.

Any scrawny guy in geeky glasses and a too-small sport jacket ought to be able to do a passable Buddy Holly, but the current (June 2001) star Gus MacGregor doesn't even try, either in appearance or performance style. The Ritchie Valens doesn't resemble the original much either (The Big Bopper, being a caricature to begin with, gets a lot closer), but I suppose there are very few in the audience who would know.

Audiences are now at least 99% tourists and close to 50% kids, and it seems as if Buddy has become the show of choice for families that have already seen Cats. It provides a harmless waste of two hours for those with very low expectations, but that is about as enthusiastic a recommendation as I can muster.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Buddy - Strand / Duchess