Like his rock ‘n’ roll contemporaries Elvis Presley and Bill Haley, Buddy Holly’s music is just as popular today as it was when he was making it 66 years ago.

Need proof? Just take a peek inside Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre where the audience – some of whose grandparents were jiving to That’ll Be The Day, and Oh Boy! as teens in 1957 – are on their feet every night dancing along to the bespectacled star’s hits in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.

The award-winning musical is celebrating its 30th year anniversary tour but has aged well, bringing Buddy’s iconic songs to a new, young audience.

‘Eastbourne, you rock,’ Christopher Weeks, playing the clean-cut star, yelled – and frankly it was impossible not to. Hit after hit kept coming from Maybe Baby, It’s So Easy and Rave On and I worried I should have brought a restraint to keep my 79-year-old mother firmly in her seat.

Gripping from curtain up, the West End and Broadway-smash show tells the story of Buddy’s tragically short career from his Texas rockabilly beginnings to international stardom and his final legendary performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa before being killed in a plane crash on February 3 1959 at the age of 22.

Thomas Mitchells is the brilliant ‘narrator’, changing characters as quickly as his outfits, while The Crickets dazzle with their musical and acrobatic performance.

Joe Butcher, playing Joe B Mauldin, spins, throws, caresses and even swims on his double bass as skilfully as if he was part of Cirque du Soleil rather than a bassist.  

Samuelle Durojaiye as Marlena Madison and Laura-Dene Perryman as Chantel Williams take turns to deliver pitch-perfect renditions of seemingly every song from the era while Stephanie Cremona and Daniella Agredo Piper act, sing, dance and play sax and piano.

But it’s Weeks as Buddy who charms and commands the crowd with his energetic and fantastically toe-tapping performance as the singer-songwriter who made three albums, a string of hits and opened for Elvis in 1955 before he was even old enough to legally drink.

He was only 20 when he finally found fame with chart topper That’ll Be The Day and Peggy Sue (originally named Cindy Lou after his niece but changed so that drummer Jerry Allison could woo a girl of that name – and it worked as she became his wife) but he’s impulsive, constantly pushing himself as if he knows he doesn’t have time to waste.

We see how Buddy tells Peermusic publishing receptionist Maria Elena Santiago he’s going to marry her within minutes of meeting and proposes on their first date five hours later.

She’s soon pregnant and the singer can’t wait to meet ‘Little Buddy’ but first he agrees to go tour during one of the worst winters on record, and the majority of act 2 shows his final gig at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on the night he died.

Christopher Chandler brings The Big Bopper to the stage with an energetic performance of Chantilly Lace, while Miguel Angel (who did a memorable R-r-r-r-eet Petite as Tyrone Jones earlier in the show) is electrifying as the 17-year-old Ritchie Valens singing La Bamba.

Weeks shows just why Buddy inspired The Beatles (Sir Paul McCartney even owns the international rights to 40 of his songs), Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. It’s not just the voice, the way he plays his Fender Stratocaster and dances exactly like Buddy but the essence of the star and raw talent he possesses. It’s why everyone in the audience was clapping and on their feet, lost in a haze of nostalgia and musical reverence.

It's also why there was total silence in the theatre when Buddy’s death was announced and a spotlight focused on his beloved guitar on the side of the stage.

Tired of hitting the road in a freezing tour bus that frequently broke down, and desperate for some rest and to wash his clothes before his next concert, Buddy had boarded a plane along with Valens and JP ‘Big Bopper’ Richardson to get to their next gig. Just minutes after take-off, the plane crashed in a cornfield killing everyone on board.

It was, Don Mclean said in his hit American Pie, ‘the day the music died’. Rather than dwell on the tragedy though, the show celebrates the young star and his music.

It’s easy to see why the show has been so popular for more than three decades and continues to inspire music fans young and old to Rave On so long after Buddy’s death.

Catch it while you can. It’s a must-see tribute to one of rock ‘n’ roll's greatest icons that’ll have you dancing in the aisles.  

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is at the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne until Saturday 23 September 2023 at 7.30pm. Saturday Matinee 2.30pm. From £27.