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Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story
Written by Alan Janes
Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Choreographed by Josh Walden
The Muny
July 13, 2015

Andy Christopher Photo: The Muny

Andy Christopher
Photo: The Muny

I have to admit I’m often skeptical of “jukebox musicals”. There are great ones, like Jersey Boys, that manage to tell a compelling story as well as presenting the music of the play’s subject. There are others, though, that have less of a story and seem to be just an excuse to string a bunch of memorable songs together onstage without much of a plot. Fortunately, the Muny’s current show Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is an example of the kind of jukebox musical I like. The show, cleverly presented and impeccably cast, presents the story of one of rock ‘n roll’s most influential early artists in a thoroughly enjoyable way that celebrates Holly’s musicianship and innovation in a thoroughly entertaining manner.

The show follows the rise to fame of one of the rock world’s early stars, showing his relationships with his bandmates, producers and the general public as now-familiar hits form the soundtrack. Commendably, a great deal of the music is played live on stage by the performers as well. We get to see Holly (Andy Christopher) and his band the Crickets (Joe Cosmo Cogen as Jerry Allison, Sam Weber as Joe B. Mauldin) as they develop their country and blues influenced rock sound. We see the early recording sessions in which producers tried to force a more traditional country sound on the band, whereupon Holly looked for and found a new producer, Norman Petty (Michael James Reed), and so the hit records began. Through a judicious use of Holly’s music and well-known classics like “That’ll Be the Day”, “Peggy Sue” and a particularly effective use of “Everyday” we get to see the band’s creativity in process. Their rise to fame follows, with their memorable appearances at New York’s famed Apollo Theatre.  Act II covers the later developments of the band and Holly’s personal life, including tensions with the band and his whirlwind romance with wife Maria Elena (Sharon Sayegh), leading to a lovely acoustic guitar-accompanied version of “True Love Ways”.  Then it’s off to Clear Lake, Iowa, and the ill-fated Winter Dance Party tour along with the Big Bopper (Chrstopher Ryan Grant) and Ritchie Valens (Nicholas Rodriguez).

While the tragic events following the Clear Lake concert are mentioned, the overall air of that concert presentation and the tribute that follows are more celebratory than mournful.  It’s a tribute, first and foremost. While it’s not the most detailed of books for a musical, the script is solid, and the music takes the lead in telling the story.  It’s an effective presentation characterized by charm, energy and impressive musicianship, led by the charismatic Christopher as the amiable but occasionally hot-tempered Holly. There are strong performances all around, particularly by Weber as Mauldin, who shows some impressive acrobatic bass playing skills. There’s also a vibrant turn by the excellent Apollo musicians, led by singer Teressa Kindle. The musicians (Troy Valjean Rucker, Theodore Brookins, Lamar Harris, Jahi Eskridge, and Nick Savage) also appear at the Winter Dance Party sequence in the second act, providing strong accompaniment to the energetic performances of Christopher, Grant, and Rodriguez. Sayegh as Maria Elena, Reed and Norman Petty, and Jo Lynn Burks as Petty’s piano-playing wife Vi provide strong support, as does the terrific Muny ensemble.

The show is replete with 50’s flair with the bright, period-specific costumes designed by Tracy Christensen, and Robert Mark Morgan’s evocative, versatile modular set.  There were a few sound issues on opening night, as well as one noticeable extended scene change that resulted in a missed cue and delayed entrance, but it was covered well and didn’t diminish the overall professional quality of the show.

Buddy Holly’s music continues to make an impression today despite his short life and career. At the Muny, his legacy is boldly and ably represented in this tuneful, highly entertaining celebration of this supremely talented man and the early days of the rock ‘n roll era.  The final sequence, featuring the entire ensemble in a medley of memorable rock hits by Holly and others, is simply a joy. It’s a fitting celebration of a legend, his music, and a time that shaped rock ‘n roll history.

Andy Christopher (center) and cast Photo: The Muny

Andy Christopher (center) and cast
Photo: The Muny 

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story runs at the Muny in Forest Park until July 19th, 2015.

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