The State Theatre in PreTshwane (not sure what name we are using at the moment) is currently home to Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story. This is certainly not the first Holly tribute in South Africa and I highly doubt it will be the last, which means that producers have had to find a way to differentiate themselves from other shows.
And different it is! Many musical productions have a formula of having one song feature in each scene and a finale at the end in which the entire cast join in for two or three songs. The current incarnation is different in that it relies heavily on narrative for the first three-quarters of the show with snippets of his music often playing in the background as his life story unfolds.
The audience learns how Holly wanted to be more than a Country singer (which was tantamount to a crime in his home state of Texas); how he was one of few white artists at the time who was invited to perform at traditionally black venues (at the Apollo in Harlem organisers had no idea that he and the Crickets were white – something they were shocked to find out when the band first arrived at the venue); how he infused less traditional instruments, sounds and styles into his own music; how he proposed to Maria Santiago on the day that they met; how he and the Crickets split up; how fate had a hand in Richie Valens’ death (he flipped a coin for a seat on the plane that crashed) and how Holly achieved so much in 18 months.
What sets this production apart is the final scene, where we get to see the last performance of Holly, the Big Bopper and Valens at the Winter Dance Party. It’s a non-stop, energy-filled, mini-concert that sees the performers pulling out all the stops. A magnificent crescendo, it is in this scene that one appreciates the hard work that must go in to a show of this magnitude. Craig Urbani does a wonderful job as the larger-than-life Big Bopper while Andrew Webster, who play Buddy Holly, is without doubt one of the most talented performers I have seen in a stage show – I don’t know where he gets the energy! To pour so much of yourself into each and every performance is a Herculean feat.
The set is unbelievable and must have taken some time to design. With an experienced cast and production team that includes Paul Ditchfield and Pierre van Pletzen, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is one to add to your must-see list.
The show runs at the South African State Theatre until Sunday, 7th November. For bookings follow the links alongside.