Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is a musical in two acts written by Alan Janes, and featuring the music of Buddy Holly. It opened at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre on 12 October 1989. An early example of the jukebox musical, Buddy ran in London’s West End for over 12 years, playing 5,140 performances. Janes took over the producing of the show himself in 2004, and Buddy has been on tour extensively in the UK since then, having played Broadway, five U.S. National Tours and numerous other productions around the world. The show was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Musical.
A late-night fan-based conversation in a bar of the Montcalm Hotel in London’s West End in 1988, between the theatrical agent Laurie Mansfield, film producer Greg Smith and writer/producer Janes, about rock and roll musician Buddy Holly, led Janes to develop and write Buddy. A year later, supported by Paul McCartney, who owned the copyright to Buddy Holly’s music, the show had a try out at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, before its transfer to London’s Victoria Palace.
Janes worked with originating director Rob Bettinson, and originating musical director Paul Jury, to present the show for a three/week pre-London engagement in August 1989 at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, with Paul Hipp as Buddy Holly. The first shows were beset by technical problems as 26 actor/musicians played and acted their way through two and a half hours of drama and hi-octane rock ‘n’ roll concert. But regardless of the set crashes and technical mishaps, the audience would not let the cast leave the stage, demanding encore after encore until the cast had run out of songs to play.
West End productions
Buddy transferred to the Victoria Palace Theatre and opened on 12 October 1989. With audiences on their feet every night, structural engineers were called to the theatre to make sure the dress circle could take the weight as the structure bounced with the audience as they danced. Buddy transferred to the Novello Theatre, completing a total of 12 and a half years and 5,140 performances at the two theatres. In 2007, Janes brought the show back to the West End at the Duchess Theatre, where it played for a further 634 performances making it one of the longest-running musicals in London history. This revival ensured that the 50th Anniversary of Holly’s death was celebrated on 3 February with a special performance incorporating several new numbers for that one night. The role of Buddy Holly was equally shared by Dean Elliott and Matthew Wycliffe, who played the role in the 2007 UK touring company. Ritchie Valens was played by Puerto Rican actor Miguel Angel, and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) by actor Lee Ormsby. The 50th Anniversary Tour played concurrently across the UK and starred Oliver Seymour-Marsh and Glen Joseph as Buddy, with Chris Redmond and Dan Graham as the Crickets.
UK national tours
During the second year of the original production’s long run, a UK national tour of Buddy began in June 1991 at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth. This was the first West End production to tour the UK while still playing in the West End; it set a new record of 243 weeks of continuous touring, or 4 years 35 weeks on the road. Buddy has continued to tour frequently in the UK.
Broadway production/US national tours
After a Toronto try-out and 15 previews, the Broadway production, also starring Hipp, opened on November 4, 1990, at the Shubert Theatre, where it ran for 225 performances. Jill Hennessy played a number of roles, including Holly’s wife Maria Elena. The show has toured extensively throughout the US, starting with a 53-week tour in November 1991, and with the most recent 5th tour finishing in March 2016.
International and touring productions
Buddy has been in more than 17 countries, including Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, UK and USA. Over 25 million people have seen the show worldwide. Buddy has had two major tours in Australia, the 1st tour played Sydney’s Theatre Royal for 36 weeks before continuing throughout Australia for a further 60 weeks. The second Australian tour in 2009 ran for 39 weeks.
In Germany, the Stage Theatre in Hamburg was built on land next to the river Elbe specifically for Buddy, where the show played for seven years between 1994 and 2001.
The action takes place in Lubbock, Texas; Clovis, New Mexico; New York City and Clear Lake, Iowa; between January 1956 and February 1959.
With the support of local Lubbock Texas radio DJ, Hipockets Duncan, Buddy and his two friends form a Country & Western band – Buddy Holly & the Crickets – and begin to carve out a career in music. After a difficult start at Decca Records in Nashville, they sign a contract with up-and-coming, innovative record producer Norman Petty who is based in Clovis, New Mexico. Within hours, Buddy Holly & the Crickets start to churn out hits from the recording studio built in Norman’s backyard, among them “That’ll Be The Day”, which will rocket up the charts to number one in a matter of weeks. Buddy Holly & the Crickets are suddenly the hottest act in the country and out on national tour.
Buddy and his band go to New York where they perform at the Apollo Theater making history as the first white band to perform there.
While recording in New York, Buddy proposes to Maria Elena Santiago, the Puerto Rican receptionist of his music publisher after a courtship of all of five hours. Newly married and ambitious, he shifts focus to New York and a rift develops between him and the Crickets. After a declaration of home truths during a recording session, the band split and Buddy unexpectedly finds himself having to pursue a solo career.
Buddy joins The Winter Dance Party of 1959, a bus tour through the Midwest quenching the teenage thirst for the “new music called Rock ‘n’ Roll” The tour is hard work, the weather conditions appalling and the performers are alternating between sleeping in the luggage racks and dropping into hospital to be treated for frostbite.
The story ends on February 3, 1959, after a rocking concert with the “Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson and Ritchie Valens at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Buddy makes the fateful decision to break his promise to his pregnant wife not to fly, as he and the other two headliners board a small plane and take off into the night destined for their next show. During a snow storm, in the dead of night, the plane crashes and spares no survivors.
- Grand Bowl, Lubbock, Texas
- A Lubbock diner
- Decca Recording Studios, Nashville
- KDAV Radio Studio, Lubbock
- NorVaJak Studios, Clovis, New Mexico
- Apollo Theatre, Harlem, New York
- Music Publisher’s Office, New York
- Central Park, New York
- NorVaJak Studios, Clovis
- Buddy & Maria Elena’s Apartment, New York
- Backstage Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa
- Clear Lake Concert
Original West End cast
- Buddy Holly – Paul Hipp
- The Big Bopper – Gareth Marks
- Ritchie Valens – Enzo Squillino Jnr
- 4th Cricket – Billy Geraghty
- Joe B. Mauldin – David Howarth
- Jerry Allison – David Bardsley
- Hipockets Duncan – Vincent Marzello
- Norman Petty – Ron Emslie
- Maria Elena Santiago – Laurence Bouvard
- Vi Petty – Lorna Lee
- Apollo Main Man – Trevor Michael Georges
- Apollo Singer – Shenton Dixon
- Session Musician – Graham Brand
- Belmont – Paul Edwards
- Maria’s Aunt – Carmen Gomez
- Dion DiMucci – Adam Henderson
- Murray Deutch – Douglas LeLand
- DJ Clear Lake – Bo Light
- Peggy Sue – Claudia Morris
- Mary Lou – Megg Nichol
- Buddy Holly – Paul Hipp
- The Big Bopper – David Mucci
- Ritchie Valens – Philip Anthony
- 4th Cricket – Ken Triwush
- Joe B. Mauldin – Bobby Prochaska
- Jerry Allison – Russ Jolly
- Hipockets Duncan – Fred Sanders
- Norman Petty – Kurt Ziskie
- Maria Elena Santiago – Jill Hennessy
- Vi Petty – Jo Lynn Burks
- Apollo Main Man – Demo Cates
- Apollo Singer – Jerome Smith Jnr
- Apollo Singer – Sandra Caldwell
- Apollo Singer – Denise Matthews
- DJ at Apollo – Don Stitts
- Session Musician – Alvin Crawford
- Belmont – Kevin Fox
- Maria’s Aunt – Liliane Stilwell
- Dion DiMucci – Adam Henderson
- Murray Deutch – Steve Steiner
- Stage Manager – Peter Mumford
- Peggy Sue – Melanie Doane
- Mary Lou – Karen Cole
- Decca Engineer – Paul McQuillan
- Official website
- Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at the Internet Broadway Database
- Interview with Maria Elena Holly
- Review of a Toronto production