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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

BUDDY (article first published : 2007-06-11)

First staged locally in the 90s, when the touring South African production was so good its star, Craig Urbani, was snapped up for the lead in the London production and went on to a respectable career on the West End, Buddy is a musical that has been seen by more than 16 million people globally.

The story of the rise to fame and untimely death in 1959, in a plane crash, of bespectacled rock 'n' roller Buddy Holly, the show returns to Durban at the Barnyard Theatre at Gateway now in a version smaller in scale than that seen at the Playhouse, but with all the fun and exuberance intact.

And, like that 90s success, it showcases a stellar array of talent, most notably that of 20-year-old Jonathan Roxmouth, who played Vince Fontaine in last year's Barnyard musical, Grease, and who recently won approval at the same venue for his flamboyant Mozart in Rock Me Amadeus.

An assured, versatile and quite powerful talent, Roxmouth here exudes promise of greatness to come. A confident and charming actor, he is in good voice. He also scores bonus points for proving no mean hand on Stratocaster guitar which he had to master from scratch. Exactly like the one Holly himself used, the instrument he plays in the show was specially manufactured in America at a cost of R15,000.

Under the deft and often playful direction of Ian von Memerty, Roxmouth and the 13 others in the cast, most of whom play various characters and also instruments, provide an effervescent entertainment that's perfectly suited to this let-your-hair-down venue.

The story opens in 1956 when the then-19-year-old Holly and his two mates, based in Texas, formed Buddy Holly and The Crickets and, with help from radio jock Hipockets Duncan (Harry Sideropoulis), landed a recording contract with Decca.

But Holly and his sidekicks - drummer Joe (Etienne Oosthuysen) and bassist Jerry (Jaco Muller) - weren't really into country and after a move to a small studio run by innovative record producer Norman Petty (Charles Bouguenon) worked wonders.

Within a fortnight Holly's first hit, That'll Be the Day, churned out in Pettys' backyard studio within hours of the band arriving there, was No 1 on the charts.

And the hits just kept on coming - Maybe Baby, Everyday, Oh Boy!, Raining In My Heart and Peggy Sue among them - as Holly and his team became hot stuff. His life became a whirlwind with national tours and a marriage to receptionist Maria Elana Santiago (Vanessa Harris), after a courtship of just five hours.

Holly then shifted his focus to New York, where he split with The Crickets to pursue a solo career and found himself at a concert venue that would seal his fate.

On February 3 1959, after a concert in Iowa, during a blizzard,Holly broke his promise to his wife not to fly and he and two other headliners - Chantilly Lace singer The Big Bopper (an amusing, crowd-pleasing Sideropoulis) and sexy La Bamba singer Ritchie Valens (standout singer-dancer Ashley Searle) - boarded a small plane to crash an hour later into a ploughed field. All were killed.

Holly's death later inspired the Don McLean classic, American Pie, which is played as the show's overture, providing an aural backdrop to a stage edged in illuminated bulbs.

Once again Durban lighting wizard Michael Broderick works his magic, illuminating sets which, mostly depicting recording studios and concert stages, have been stylish created by Strictly Come Dancing's designer, Niki Gallagher. Costume designers Delene Holt and Margo Fleisch also deserve special mention. - Billy Suter




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