Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is a jukebox musical in two acts with a book co-written by Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson, and music and lyrics by a variety of songwriters. Based on the life and career of early rock and roller Buddy Holly, the musical hews closer to Holly's actual life story than the 1978 film version. One of the first so-called "jukebox musicals," the show consists mostly of the songs of Holly and other early rockers.
The musical was conceived by Londoner Laurie Mansfield, who pitched the idea to film producer Greg Smith in 1988. Paul Elliot, a West End producer took on the project, and support from Paul McCartney (who owned the copyrights to Holly's music and objected to inaccuracies in the movie) insured the show's creation. The musical has enjoyed a 1989 West End production that ran for over 12 years, a successful Broadway production and numerous subsequent tours and productions around the world.
The West End production, with Paul Hipp as Holly and directed by Rob Bettinson, opened on October 12, 1989 at the Victoria Palace Theatre, where it remained for six years before transferring to the Strand Theatre. It ran for another six years and five months for a total of more than 5,000 performances, making it one of the longest-running musicals in London history. Later in the run, Chip Esten played Holly.
Two London cast albums were released, an original cast recording in 1989, and a live recording made during a performance at the Strand Theatre in 1995. Both were released on the First Night label..
After a Toronto tryout and fifteen previews, the Broadway production, also directed by Bettinson and starring Hipp, opened on November 4, 1990 at the Shubert Theatre, where it ran for 225 performances. Jill Hennessey played a number of roles, including Holly's wife Maria Elena.
The show has also toured extensively, and productions have been mounted in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Finland, Ireland, Japan, and Singapore. A 27-city U.S. tour was mounted in 2000, and tours were mounted in the UK in both 2006 and 2007.
A U.S. West Coast production, directed by Stephen Moorer and starring Travis Poelle, opened on June 6, 2003 at the Golden Bough Playhouse in Carmel, California, moving to San Jose on August 13, playing at the San Jose Stage. The success of the production led to a revival, beginning on June 8, 2004, at the Post St. Theatre in San Francisco, garnering positive reviews and Bay Area Critics' awards for Best Musical, Best Ensemble, and Best Actor in a Musical (Travis Poelle). Maria Elena Holly attended the show at each location, dancing onstage with the cast at curtain call.
The West End London revival opened on August 3, 2007 at The Duchess Theatre where it continues to run. This version, directed again by Rob Bettinson, is scaled down from its previous incarnations, and the role of Buddy Holly has been equally shared by Dean Elliott and Matthew Wycliffe, who played the role in the 2007 UK touring company. Richie Valens is played by Puerto Rican actor Miguel Angel, and The Big Bopper A.K.A J.P. Richardson is played by actor Lee Ormsby.
In Lubbock, Texas, 19 year old Buddy Holly is an up and coming country music singer. He and his two friends, Joe and Jerry (The Crickets), want to experiment with the new and controversial style of music called rock 'n roll. They struggle for a time in Texas and then in Nashville, where producers want Buddy to record country and western music, ignoring Buddy's pleas to "do it his way". The escalating argument results in a fist fight, and the loss of Buddy's Decca relationship.
A contract with pioneering record producer Norman Petty results in a string of hits, including the 1957 hits "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue" (the latter a last-minute change of title from "Cindy Lou" at the behest of the group's drummer). Bookers at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, mistakenly believing the group is black, sign them to appear at the theater, resulting in The Crickets being the first white group to perform there, where they are enthusiastically received.
Following these successes, The Crickets begin to record in New York City, where Buddy meets and impulsively marries Puerto Rican record publisher receptionist Maria Elena Santiago.
After a break-up with the Crickets, Buddy starts a solo career, leading to his being signed as one of the headliners on the 1959 "Winter Dance Party." Fed up with the terrible Midwestern weather and tired of traveling by tour bus, 22-year-old Holly breaks a promise to his pregnant wife not to fly. Following a February 2, 1959 concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, he and two other stars, the Big Bopper and young Ritchie Valens (a last minute replacement for another musician), board a four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza during a blizzard, a fateful decision that places them in musical history books in an unexpected and tragic way.
Awards and nominations