Review: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (Lower Ossington Theatre)

Revisit some unforgettable music history at Toronto’s Randolph Theatre

Eric Bleyendaal as Buddy in Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story.

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is a great night you won’t soon forget. It is a celebration of Buddy’s life in particular, and life in general. If you like to smile, dance and clap, call a friend and make plans to head down to The Randolph Theatre in Toronto.

Buddy Holly was an amazing talent who took the world by storm, made it dance, and was killed way before his time. It wasn’t heroin or bullets that killed Buddy. He died in a winter plane crash while on a tour. He went on the tour to provide for his family. The play Buddy really brings this human side of Buddy Holly the person to life. Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is a celebration of his life.

Eric Bleyendaal, who plays Buddy, certainly seems to understand that mountain of history. He brings the same self-confidence and conviction to his performance that Buddy brought to his music. He’s onstage most of the time acting, singing and playing guitar. His acting is great, as is his singing. His energy and charisma are enviable, even better than a shot of cappuccino!

Buddy is a bit like two plays in one. While the first is more dramatic than the second, it of course includes a lot of great songs. You’ll tap your toes to songs while you get to know the real Buddy. The second act is more or less a concert, with Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper (Nathan Younger) and Richie Valens (Justin Darmanin) recreating the last gig the icons ever did. The all died in a plane crash hours after their last concert.

Bleyendaal’s portrayal of Buddy reminded me of Joe Strummer. All three are passionate and have a belief in themselves. In lesser hands, it would be easy to make Buddy Holly’s “me versus the world” attitude comes across as cartoonish. Bleyendaal makes Buddy a believable and charismatic person.

The cast and crew of Buddy is huge, and hugely talented. The play is comprised of two different acts. In the same way, many actors play two or more very different roles.

It’s a shame that there isn’t room to mention them all here. I thought Jeffrey Simlett stood out. Both Stan and I were impressed with the way the performers “became” so many diverse characters.

The Hayriders are an amazing trio of singing “girls” who steal a few scenes in the second act. Their costumes are wonderful and really help to create the mood and atmosphere of 1950s rock and roll. As a matter of fact, all the costumes in Buddy feel authentic. Costume Designer Kathleen Black has done a tremendous job of bringing a lost era back to life.

The set of Buddy is simple. This works to put the talent front and centre. It is also reflective of a simpler time in life and in rock and roll. The Randolph Theatre is an older building, and is perfectly suited for this play. The music, all live and all great, sounds great in an old building that was once a church.

If you are young, Buddy might be an introduction to a bygone era. The music might be new and the story a bit of a history lesson. With a great cast and crew, it’s a history lesson that is always a lot of fun.

Buddy Holly’s story sounds like a cliché, but he was an archetype. Maybe Buddy Holly isn’t well known to our current generation, but he should be. If you are a music fan at all, you should see this play. In the 50’s the kids, the boppers, dug it. You’ll dig it too.

If there was anything that I didn’t like about Buddy, it was that there wasn’t as much purple and pink hair in the audience as there was grey!

Details:

  • Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is playing at the Randolph Theatre (736 Bathurst St) till April 21, 2013
  • Shows run Thursday through Saturday at 8:00pm with matinees on Saturday at 2:00 pm and Sundays at 4:00pm
  • Tickets range from $49-$60.
  • Tickets can be purchased in person, online or by calling 416.915.6747

Photo of Eric Bleyendaal (playing the role of Buddy) by Shannon Dickens.