Theatre Review: Buddy – Won’t Fade Away, Or The Holly And The Lively

April 28, 2023




Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story / Directed by Nick Winston / Teatro, Montecasino, Fourways


Buddy is not the biggest musical in the world – after all, its hero died aged only 22 (if that’s a spoiler, this may not be the show for you), so there is limited material to work with in terms of his public life. The impact of the music Buddy Holly wrote, performed and released remains massive though, even more than 50 years after it was released. The power of those songs both drives the bulk of the onstage action and fills the Teatro’s large stage, matching the impact of Niall Griffin’s deceptively simple, clever and imposing set.

This production is expertly cast, with, among others, Keaton Ditchfield as the Big Bopper and Chad Baai as Ritchie Valens fitting the bill in terms of their looks as well as their musical excellence. Most important of all, of course, is the fit of the lead performer to the lead role here, and Jethro Tait is a fantastic Buddy, looking strikingly similar to Holly, being a strong guitarist and possessing a voice that allows him to simultaneously match the rock hero’s original and incite excitement in anyone hearing him for the first time.

It’s possible to enjoy the show without getting into too much of the detail of the narrative, which deals with Holly’s rise to fame, as most of the scenes are built around musical milestones – recording hits-to-be in the studio, navigating the cultural awkwardness of being a white band headlining Harlem’s revered Apollo Theatre and more – all of which gives the experience something of the tone of a rock and roll concert. Those parts of the show are strongly supported by an excellent band led by pianist and musical director Wessel Odendaal.

There is also storytelling to keep both casual observers and music fans interested, with the way Holly’s powerful ambition and drive to completely realise his vision for his music being one of the most compelling aspects in that regard. Also enjoyable is the relationship between Holly and the woman he falls almost instantly in love with, Maria Elena Santiago (played with sass and sensitivity by Gabriela Dos Santos).

There are standout moments from Gianluca Gironi as Jerry Allison, Holly’s drummer (Gironi has to drum well along with his comic acting and some snazzy dance moves, and he achieves all of these with aplomb); from Ditchfield, who absolutely nails his take on the Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace; and from Bethany Dickson as goofy beauty queen Mary Lou Sokoloff.

There is energy and slickness and a touch of reality-related grit – and there are those songs. That’ll Be The Day, Everyday, Not Fade Away and Peggy Sue are the sort of tunes that have a place in the soundtrack to almost everyone’s life, regardless of age, and performed as well as they are here, they can’t fail to bring joy to a room.