Buddy Holly’s Winter Dance Party
This was a night of nostalgia at the New Theatre, as a talented group of musicians recreated the teenage hits of the late ‘50s and had the audience dancing in the aisles. The Winter Dance Party, which gives this evening of musical entertainment its name, was the tour headlined by Buddy Holly that set off to entertain America’s Midwest in January 1959. Supporting acts included the Big Bopper, Dion and the Belmonts and Ritchie Valens.
We were treated to live numbers, invited to sing and clap along, and by the end a good chunk of the audience just couldn’t help themselves and were bopping in the aisles. Clearly some members of the audience were reliving their youth. It is surprising how popular those hits still are today: you may not be able to name the artist but I bet you can sing along to Chantilly Lace, Teenager in Love and That’ll be the Day, and have danced to La Bamba at one point in your life.
In the first half the individual ‘stars’ did a turn, and they all then came together in the second half to support the headline act – Buddy Holly (Ed Handoll). All the performers were musically talented but I should make special mention of Matt Blaker (backing singer/saxophonist) and Will Tierny (a Belmont/guitarist) for their animated performances. Handoll, though, was the stand-out star of the night. Dan Plummer, making an acting debut as Dion, certainly had the voice but needs to develop stage confidence to go with it.
The support band of four was tight and laid a great foundation of driving rhythm and supporting instrumentals to the leads. Perhaps the dance moves weren’t as synchronised or as flamboyant as the originals but musically this was spot on.
The problem with this show is how to categorise it. It is neither a tribute act like Bjorn Again or Bootleg Beatles, nor a musical like Dreamboats and Petticoats. It isn’t a gig either, as the performers don’t interact with the audience. The pretence is that the audience is in the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa, and this is Buddy’s last gig. All the dialogue is scripted (and rather stilted) and the reference to the following morning’s plane flight, in which Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper were killed, frankly tacky. The dramatized ending is misjudged too – it means that, after all the fun, the end of the show is really down-beat and the audience is given no chance to genuinely applaud all the performers.
Putting that aside, it is a fun night out, especially for an ardent rock and roll fan. All these acts were fine proponents of the three minute single and, after hearing hit after hit, we left the theatre with feet still tapping.