A Quickly Written Review: Buddy the Musical
(Written within 2 hours of seeing the musical in question and this is the one and only draft. Not unlike the script used in the show I am guessing. So apologies for ranting and any mistakes. Rest assured, no matter how it comes across, I had a good night.)
To be gifted with tickets to a musical when you are a musical enthusiast is excellent news. To be gifted with two sets of tickets for two different shows is just gravy. And tonight I put one set to good use by taking myself from the airport (another story) straight to the Empire Theatre in Liverpool to see ‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story’ We were pitched in Row Q and our tickets boasted that our view would be restricted. It is rare that a present is accompanied with homework. Trust a teacher.
‘Perhaps you could do a blog piece comparing watching a show from bad seats vs a show from good seats’
So here is Part 1. The Bad Seats.
First of all the good news: The view was not a problem. With a promise like ‘restricted view’ I expected at least a big-fuck-off-pillar in my face or to only see the backs of the actors but all it meant was I would be quite far away from the stage and therefore would be unable to engage in activities such as noting which actor spits/sweats the most. Gutting as this was, I suspected I would be able to struggle through. A more accurate description of the shortcomings of my position would have been: ‘Warning: Some of the women behind you drank before coming out tonight and feel confident that you are equally interested in their interpretation of ‘Maybe Baby’. If any of them happen to stumble across this blog at any point: Fuck you. Seriously, everyone hates you. Not one person respects anything about you. Your parents, your partner, your friends, your children: They all hate and resent you and alcohol won’t change that.
Where was I?
Prior to the show beginning I observed to my viewing partner (due to the macho exterior he gives to the world, I couldn’t possibly reveal his identity) that Buddy Holly died at aged 22 after less than two years of chart success. His legacy is remarkable for those facts, but worthy of a biopic? Wait, hear me out: 22. 22 years old. How much could there possibly be to say about anyone who lived such a tragically short life? My concern was that the show would focus on his death and there would be a tasteless shot of him being heaved by the technical staff over the stage in an angel outfit while the rest of the cast waved and sang ‘American Pie.’ Or something.
I have already discussed my feelings around jukebox musicals. I find them lazy and often tiresome. They cash in on people’s nostalgia with very little creative effort. So between Holly’s short (but sweet) time on this planet and this being a musical biopic with no original songs I was somewhat nervous about how enjoyable this was all going to be. My aforementioned Butch Buddy (hey!) pointed out we could always flee at half time if it proved to be truly terrible.
Ok…First of all. How hard is sound? That is the second musical I have been to in as many weeks where the microphones alternated between too loud, too quiet, too crackly, too muffled and just wrong. Coupled with some very dodgy American/Latino accents it was often hard to make out what they were on about. Sort it out, sound people. All sound people. Just…Sort it out.
I was right to be concerned about the writing. Sorry Alan Janes. I am sure you are a great guy with a dog and a garden and feelings but my God…This show has been around for 25 years. It has been in the West End, Broadway, won awards and toured the world…God knows how much money Alan Janes has made from writing it. So I am sure he won’t care when I say that lazy doesn’t cut it. My little accurate parody I am currently composing that will be posted below must have taken longer than the actual dialogue from the show:
Local Manager: The people don’t want rock and roll Buddy! They want country! Sing country!
Local Manager: Ok. Here is a record contract. But you will have to give up your band, the Crickets.
Local Manager: Ok.
Recording Guy: What the hell was that?
Buddy: A song I wrote called ‘That’ll be the Day’ Good right?
Recording Guy: That was the worst song I have ever heard! (This actually happens leading to the audience actually booing)
(Buddy becomes a runaway success based on his talent and he sings some songs. Then he goes on to perform at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. He expects to be run out of town for being white but isn’t because he is good at singing songs and playing guitar.)
Two Black Cast Members: Buddy Holly is white and doesn’t know what we mean when we ask for a high five. White people be crazy, amiright Liverpool audience?
99.9% White Audience: * Shifts uncomfortably in seats *
Buddy: Racism can be cured by rock music! Hooray!
Love Interest Woman: I like Buddy Holly
Buddy: I’m Buddy Holly. Marry me?
Love Interest Woman: I am a proud Spanish girl. That is literally it for me, character wise. The person who writes this blog can’t even be bothered to look up my name based on how I was portrayed and I bet I deserved better.
Crickets: We quit Buddy
Buddy: I am a bit sad but ok. Good luck to ya. I’m off on tour with the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.
Love Interest Woman: No I reckon you will die if you do that and I am your wife and I love you. For reasons that have not been made clear in the scene and a half we have spent together.
Buddy: I won’t die. I’m pretty sure that is most unlikely
This conversation is followed by 45 minutes of filler where the house lights comes up and there is some audience banter, someone wins a prize due to having a special programme, and then we get song after song after song with no more dialogue or plot until we are reminded Buddy Holly, Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens all died in a plane crash and then they all sing a Chuck Berry song as quickly as possible so nobody in the audience is left lingering on the fact that Buddy Holly achieved more in 18 months than any of us will in a lifetime.
And that is it. I can’t really put into words how angry it makes me to think that somewhere someone got paid some money for the script I watched getting performed. What passed for laughs included saying things like: ‘You will get famous when that Ray Charles fellow plays the White House’ and mentioning the name Roy Orbison. Yes. Just the fact that Roy Orbison existed was supposed to be enough to convince me to engage in this sloppily edited, spun and produced shlock. I should be GRATEFUL that Alan Janes read a biography on Holly and then told it like it probably happened. He must have done a little dance of joy when they were handing out musical biopics and he got Buddy Holly. Buddy Holly was ahead of his time, he was talented, he became successful and he died too young. That is all he had time to do. So instead of producing a character study, telling a complex story of how money and fame corrupts or, I don’t know, say anything about humans, the nature of success or even music, all Janes had to do was fit some terrible lines in amongst the songs. And he doesn’t even do it well. At all.
So why did I stay till the end? And why did I stand up and applaud and sing with everyone else at the end?
That’s an easy one.
The music of Buddy Holly sounds like this:
And the cast, who are also the orchestra, did a pretty good job and that is enough when the music is this great. A special mention is due to Roger Rowley (who alternates the role with Glen Joseph) who brought a huge amount of energy and joy to his portrayal of the scarily professional, bespectacled and much missed Holly. Plus he sings and plays very, very well.
Basically, what I was watching was a pretty good 50’s retrospective performed very well by a fairly accurate Buddy Holly impersonator. In fact, it would seem both actors have spent a good deal longer being Buddy Holly than Buddy Holly did. So why shoehorn in a plot at all? I have been to see a Blues Brothers Concert that was just that: It wasn’t the real John Belushi (believe it or not) and Dan Aykroyd but they were pretty close approximations and I could enjoy their renditions of ‘Soul Man’ and ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ without having to patiently suffer through the Saturday Night Live years performed awkwardly by faux Americans spouting clichés like: ‘The people don’t want X! They want Y Stop rocking the boat!’ before the characters rock the boat anyway like we all know they will because IT REALLY HAPPENED AND WE KNOW IT REALLY HAPPENED AND YOU CAN’T CREATE TENSION THROUGH IRONY IT DOESN’T WORK!
I am going off again but seriously. Two hours have passed and I am still angry by how this was both lazy and bad as biopics go. It stayed comfortably on the surface while coasting on music written years earlier. I only learned ONE new thing about Buddy Holly and even that is dubious as a quick google search can’t confirm that ‘Everyday’ was done in one take on a whim…But even if this turns out to be bollocks this was easily my favourite bit of the show and the moment I decided to stay till the end. As much as I rolled my eyes when audience members were manipulated into feeling something by being reminded that these songs exist, when Rowley started setting it up I felt my face break out in an honest to goodness smile. I beamed. Because it is a beautiful song. And they did a wonderful job.
And then the last 45 minutes or so, the final concert. It was fun. Despite myself, I danced. Because is it even possible to hear ‘La Bamba’ and remain still?
You leave shows like this feeling wonderful. Euphoric. High. And I did. But it is and was artificial. These songs are wonderful and they don’t need a musical, especially ones as awkwardly constructed as this to support them. Call it like it is. If Roger Rowley ever wants to tour as a Buddy Holly tribute act I will be there with bells on. However the next time Alan Janes writes and produces a show I want to be as far away as possible.
I love this song by the way. Rest in peace you magnificent young man. Thank you for making glasses cool, being a skinny teenager and a pin up at the same time without being totally lame and musically paving the way for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
‘It’s not that I want to be rich. I just want the world to remember the name Buddy Holly’
Your wish is the world’s command, Buddy.