Tonight we are in Twickenham at The Exchange which opened just 6 month ago as a new cultural hub for the area. It has since provided the community with cinema screenings, talks, comedy nights and much with a 300 seater audience.
It’s most likely a musical theater premiere for the venue today and when the show starts most seats are filled which is lovely to witness. Especially great after the Twickenham Theatre opened and closed in 2014 before being able to complete its season schedule (even when selling out what was probably the most intimate staging of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd).
I have not seen The Buddy Holly Show on stage. In in my early teens I did go to a touring production of the musical Chess in the purpose-built theatre in the heart of Hamburg’s harbour, cadillac cars, round TV sets, American diner furniture, music boxes and much more.
We are indeed taken to the 1950s Texas of business men with cowboy hats and shiny chromed microphones, the home ground of Buddy Holly and the Crickets. But Buddy and his band are bored by repeating the same country and western sounds they are expected to play. Instead they aim for Rock ‘n Roll which gets them in trouble with radio stations and even the (already then) major record company Decca. It does not help that Elvis has already established himself in a non-white music scene, as he has the looks to get away with it. Of this Buddy is tactlessly reminded, even before anyone mentions his glasses – with the additional statement that whoever claimed the music industry was fair was either a liar or a politician.
Buddy decides to do things differently, gets even more particular glasses (after all it means that he is the only musician wearing any) and finally finds a recording company. The band records hit after hit and are given the freedom to experiment with instruments, harmonies, rhythms, baselines and background singing.
During these sessions we learn that Peggy Sue was a song originally called Cindy Lou and then adapted only to impress the drummer’s love interest. Buddy takes his band on tour to the UK and then returns to the US, to New York and to Harlem of all places. Even here they are loved. Pragmatic and romantic as he is, Buddy proposes to his future wife five hours after he met her and shares the news with his ma the same night. It works out. Buddy always seems of good spirits even when splitting from the Crickets and his success seems unstoppable. Unfortunately while touring on February 3rd, 1959 Buddy Holly gets killed in plane crash along with fellow singers Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper.
We are allowed to relive the music and, oh boy, the audience knows the lyrics and the beats as even the floor seems to rock with the speed of the disco ball. Standing ovations all round for a bespectacled icon, forever to be associated with Fender guitars, who set his own standards and influenced the music decade that followed. John Lennon famously claimed he would have never dared going on stage wearing glasses if it had not been for Buddy Holly and David McLean remembered Buddy Holly in 1971 in his world hit American Pie with ‘The Day The Music Died’. Luckily for us the music did not die.
The Buddy Holly Story – written by Alan Janes, adapted by It’s So Easy Production
**** out of 5 stars
We paid £15 per seat in row number 3; this production played for two nights in The Exchange.