Buddy is more concert than theatre
Without question, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story has been the most anticipated main-stage production of the Globe Theatre’s current season and has been hailed as the spiritual predecessor to the wildly successful A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline from last season. Instead of the dulcet twang of slide guitar, the Globe Theatre would be filled with the swinging sound of fifties rock ‘n’ roll. Since I possess what can only be summarized as a healthy hatred for country music, I thought I would enjoy Buddy infinitely more; however, I’m apparently far too jaded and cynical even for that.
Buddy tells the regrettably short story of famed rock ‘n’ roll musician Buddy Holly. Although his success lasted only eighteen months before his death in a plane crash (spoiler alert), critic Bruce Eder has called Buddy Holly the single most influential creative force in early rock ‘n’ roll. Sadly, the Globe production does little to explore this notion. Instead, they shove the actors forcefully in our faces and shout, “Look at how good our cover artists are!” Sadly, the actors seemed like they were delivering their lines simply to rush from song to song, and some of the musical performances left something to be desired.
Our story begins in Lubbock, Texas where a young Buddy Holly, played by Sef Wood, is kicked off of a Conservative-Christian radio station for playing “the devil’s music.” After a fall out with an executive from Decca Records, Buddy Holly and the newly dubbed Crickets begin recording their brand of music in New Mexico, which, of course, takes off like a rocket and propels Buddy Holly and the Crickets to national stardom. After the obligatory band falling-out, Buddy Holly continues life as a solo artist until The Day the Music Died in 1959.
"The actors seemed like they were delivering their lines simply to rush from song to song, and some of the musical performances left something to be desired."
The play is certainly not without its charming moments. There are moments of genuine humour—particularly the revelation that Buddy Holly and the Crickets are an all-white band the moment before they are to step on stage at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. The majority of the musicians performing in Buddy are well-polished veterans who sound tight as hell together. Most of the problems I have with the show come from the portrayal of Buddy himself.
There is no doubt that Sef Wood is a talented guitar player; however, that was the extent of my admiration for his performance. Wood’s attempts to capture Buddy Holly’s nervous impishness came off as insurmountable smarminess that gave Buddy Holly a “rock star” attitude that he never had. My other problems came from Wood’s vocal performance. Again, the attempt to capture Holly verbatim worked against him; Wood’s whiny vocals seemed out of place in most of the songs. What Wood sounded like hardly mattered though, as his vocals were often lost in the mix during the band’s instrumentally busier songs.
However bad I found Buddy to be, the play was saved in part by the supporting cast. The dead-on impressions of The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens will always have a special place in my shrivelled reviewer’s heart. Indeed, the best crowd reaction of the night came from what amounted to the whole cast performing a great rendition of Valens’ hit song, “La Bamba”.
Ultimately, Buddy underwhelms, especially considering how well Patsy Cline was performed last year. Perhaps the evening is more magical if you grew up with the music of Buddy Holly, instead of just admiring it later on. Or, perhaps the Globe should just give the dead musician thing a rest, especially if they’re going to stop trying after just two years.