A young South African actor, Craig Urbani, shot to fame playing musical prodigy Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story – first at home and then on London’s West End.
After a decade of performing in some of London’s finest productions, he returned home and has since appeared on TV in Isidingo and Shado’s, and flaunted his musical theatre prowess in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Chicago.
Seventeen years on, though, he’s back on stage in Pretoria in the production that started it all for a new generation – only this time he’s taking on the role of The Big Bopper.
It’s been 17 years since you first donned Buddy Holly’s horn-rimmed spectacles. What’s it like to watch someone else delivering your lines?
They are no longer my lines. They haven’t been my lines for some time now.
The last time I played Buddy was 10 years ago in Australia.
It’s good to hear Andrew (Webster) delivering them and doing such a great job.
What advice have you given to Andrew Webster?
None really. He’s played the role before and did an excellent job.
I saw him in 1998 and thought he was perfect for the role then.
I think he’s perfect for it now. But there’s no ego with Andrew so we swop ideas all the time.
Who is The Big Bopper and what’s his best moment on stage?
The Big Bopper was the guy who sang Chantilly Lace, which he sings in the final concert complete with 16-piece band and in a
leopard-print jacket. Hello, baby!
Did you have to audition for the role, and do auditions become easier with experience?
I didn’t have to audition for this part, but I do for others.
Auditions never get easier. I hate them. I still get nervous.
All performers have on-stage catastrophes that the audience knows nothing about. Care to share one of yours?
I’ve had quite a few nightmares on stage. People not arriving, sets falling on me, people missing lines, forgetting my words, power failures, out-of-tune instruments, my voice cracking. You name it, it’s happened to me.
I think the best thing to do is to acknowledge it and share it with the audience.
What is the weirdest job you’ve taken to pay the bills?
I did see the millennium in by playing Dick in Dick Whittington. I was doing two shows a day of this awful pantomime in a freezing, snowed-in grey, miserable Bradford (in England). I stopped one day and thought: this can’t be right. I needed the work and the money though.
Not a career highlight, that’s for sure.
When you sing in the shower, is it always a song from one of the musicals you’ve starred in?
I sing whatever pops into my head. It’s normally anything but the songs that I’m singing in the show every night.
Oh! And it doesn’t have to be in the shower.
I am known for launching into a song wherever and whenever.
Half a century since his brief heyday, why is the music and life of Buddy Holly still relevant to audiences?
It’s just a fun show that is well constructed and extremely entertaining.
The story is interesting and well told, and the songs are great.
Despite the tragedy of Buddy’s death, it really leaves people feeling good.
Is this the last chapter in your Buddy Holly story?
You never know. I thought I was done with Buddy some years ago and here we are again. Next year I will be appearing in a reality series on M-Net, and doing my corporate work and voiceovers.
But mostly, I’ll be spending time with my little girl, Jenna.
»?The Buddy Holly Story is on at the State Theatre in Pretoria from today until November 7. Book at Computicket