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Wednesday, February 10, 2010


(Pic: Barry Thomson, Andrew Webster and John Didlick)

Energetic and highly entertaining tribute to rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Fifty-one years ago on February 3, 1959, the world lost a major talent when American singer-songwriter Buddy Holly was killed in an aeroplane crash while on a tour of the Midwest. A pioneer of rock and roll, he died after a short-lived career alongside his friends Ritchie Valens and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.

The Heritage Theatre in Hillcrest is marking the anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death with their current show, Buddy and Friends which opened on February 1. The show is devised to celebrate his music as well as the influence he made on his contemporaries and later artists such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

Featuring the inimitable and experienced trio of John Didlick, Andrew Webster and Barry Thomson, the show is backed by musical director Dawn Selby on keyboards and vocals, with Steve du Plessis on drums and Glen Turrell on bass guitar. A cast of six is fairly small to handle the range of music presented but, despite some irritating sound problems which at times saw normally reliable vocalists singing off-key, the music stays true to both Buddy Holly and the modern-day versions of his songs. It makes for an energetic and highly entertaining evening.

A giant pair of heavy dark-rimmed glasses – the kind that Buddy Holly used to wear - hovers above the back of the stage, as if in spiritual support. And no doubt the musician himself would have approved of the respect in which the production handles his work.

The music items are linked by narration or in some fun instances when John Didlick reads interesting passages from an “almanack” about Buddy Holly’s life. Andrew Webster explains that: “We’re not here to imitate him” and Barry Thompson adds: “We’re don’t have to be him – just play him.” However, the two often don characteristic Holly-styled dark-rimmed glasses and dark suits and get involved in some good-hearted rock ‘n roll movement.

Glen Turrell gets to gain a new selection of fans every night as he lends his deep bass to Bird Dog and Summertime Blues. I think if he were to create his own show, it would be fascinating. How about Below the Bassline for a title?

Buddy Holly is described as "the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll" and was in the first group of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Sadly, his success only lasted the short space of a year and a half before his death. So, it’s good to be reminded of the legacy he left behind him, with much-loved numbers such as That’ll be the Day; Peggy Sue; Words of Love; Heart Beat; True Love Ways; Maybe Baby; It Doesn’t Matter Any More and Raining in my Heart.

My only quibble is the inappropriate appearance of cast members on stage before the show setting up and checking equipment, without being hidden by curtains. In theatre, the idea is to create magic – to hide the “process” from the audience – so that when the curtains open, or the lights go up, the cast is seen in performance mode. The reason for keeping the curtains open is apparently because the air-conditioning ducts are placed above the stage and free air-flow to the auditorium would be hampered in these humid months. However, a scrim stretching across the existing curtain rail would possibly solve both problems.

Tickets R190 Wednesdays to Saturdays at 19h00 (R16 on Tuesdays at 19h00 and Sundays at 12h30) include a two-course meal (puddings and drinks are extra). The meals are well presented and I enjoyed my selection. For starters, there’s Glazed Butternut Soup, Asian Turkey Salad and Chef’s Tower Salad (my choice) and for the main, there’s Arrabiata Pasta, Napolitano Simmered Line Fish, Greek Roasted Lemon Chicken Breast and the Heritage’s time-honoured Karoo Lamb Shank (again my choice).

Produced by Gary McKenzie with sound design by Colin Peddie and lighting design by Tina Le Roux, Buddy Holly runs until February 28 at the Heritage Theatre in Hillcrest. Bookings through 031 765 4197. – Caroline Smart