The Buddy Holly StoryPhoto - James Morgan

The Buddy Holly
Story currently playing at the Lyric Theatre, Darling Harbour, Sydney and shortly to tour the country, is of the type, cabaret. The principle rational of the co-writers, Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson, who share production and direction credits, is the presentation of the music of the famed and ill fated Buddy Holly. Holly died in a plane crash in 1959 after a brief recording history that spanned a mere eighteen months. It was in the very truest sense of the word a meteoric musical phenomenon. The current production is by David White and Rick Szabo.

The Buddy Holly Story seeks to use the events of Holly’s recording career and some personal anecdotes to provide the links with the songs.

The text linkage is for the most part uneventful. Cabaret type format relies heavily on a very slick exchange with either comedic or reminiscent interludes. The narrative format used here leaves the production in a slump up until the introduction of the Apollo sequence which precedes interval. The several attempts at humour suffer under self conscious timing and fugitive accents on the part of the performers.

With the arrival at the Apollo the production hits a new level of energy initiated by the dynamism and sheer volume given out by Clare Chihambakwe as Ruby and carried with genuine comedic skill by Madison McKoy as the Apollo MC with LeRoi Kippen. It is this event’s recital of Holly’s undeniable genius as a cross cultural communicator that would seem to be the natural climax to the production. It’s placement prior to interval leaves an unsustainably long denouement through the entire second half.

Regrettably it reintroduces story verisimilitude rather than developing any dramatic tension or sharp satire bringing the production back into the slump of the opening. The humour is lackluster with the single exception of a brief but superbly nuanced performance by Akina Edmonds in the role of Maria Elena’s aunt. She later appears in the extended finale of the Clear Lake, Iowa concert as one of the female chorus. Edmonds convincingly demonstrates that her timing extends past that of innate comedienne displaying a fluidity and ease in dance that is mesmerizing.

For the most part however the performances once the music stopped pretty much followed suit. The result, under the direction of Craig Ilott, was a very uneven flow that often palled.

The cast comprises Scott Cameron as an almost carbon copy of the hero of the story, Laura Bunting as his wife, Maria Elena, James Nation-Ingle, Simon Bentley and Andrew Kroenert as the backing Crickets, James Shaw and Gerard Carroll as the principal movers in Holly’s career, Hipockets Duncan and Norman Petty and Julia Davis as Petty’s wife, Vi.

While the finale attempted to regain the lift of the earlier Apollo routine with the introduction of Flip Simmons as Ritchie Valens and Luke Tonkin as The Big Bopper, the earlier pitch was not revisited. Jamie Watt, James Pope, Isla Brentwood, Charlie Jones, Jonathan Whitlow, William Isherwood and Keane Fletcher complete the cast.

The set design by Christopher Smith, while extremely vibrant and thematically suited tended to visually distract from the ‘insert’ sets that often contained crucial sequences. Lighting by Edmonds complemented both set and direction admirably. Mark Meharg’s costumes, assisted by Hayley Carrick were impeccable suitably dag and stylish in turn especially Holly’s blue satin and Ruby’s white Chantilly lace.

The music, directed by Peter Laughton, assisted by Simon Walter, was pure Buddy Holly. It will always be amazing. The fact that the man was able to develop a style that was so symbiotic with black and white America is the key to his immortality and the performers in terms of the music were suitable facsimiles both in terms of energy and style. Regrettably the acoustic in the Lyric doesn’t do them justice with very considerable distortion experienced throughout.

It is doubtful that this was in any way the fault of sound designer, John Taylor, as it has been commented on in several other productions. It is perplexing why a theatre so obviously dependent on this style of production as an appendix to the Casino persists with such a substandard acoustic unless it is systemic to the space itself.

For the rest, in the words of Janes and Bettinson, it’s all rock and roll.

The Buddy Holly Story

Director Craig Ilott

Venue: Lyric Theatre, Star City
Playing until 24 April
Bookings: 1300 795 267 |

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