BWW Review: BUDDY...THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY at New Theatre Restaurant
Most Midwesterners older than a certain age have heard the name and may even know how young Buddy Holly died. Some fans know exactly where they were and from whom they heard the news. Many fewer know much about Buddy's backstory. That hole in the history in early Rock and Roll is plugged by the new production of "Buddy ... The Buddy Holly Story" at New Theater Restaurant in Overland Park now through July 7.
Buddy Holly, originally from Lubbock Texas, was one of the transitional personalities whose music led to "Rockabilly" and as a gateway to Rock and Roll. Buddy's career covered a short three years. His was not a rock-star stage persona. He was tall, skinny, and a little nerdy with thick black rimmed glasses.
Holly emerged with two buddies, Jerry Allison and Joe B. Maudlin, as Buddy Holly and The Crickets in early 1956 singing what was then called Country and Western in the process of transforming into early Rock music. The group signed an early record deal with Decca Records in Nashville. Buddy, both headstrong and impulsive, clashed with Decca over artistic visions. Decca wanted C&W product. Buddy was in love with Rock and Roll.
The dispute caused the boys return to Lubbock unemployed. A friendly local disk jockey introduced the trio to a Clovis, New Mexico promoter and sound engineer named Norman Petty. Petty, who was a minor artist himself, recorded early Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Charlie "Sugartime" Phillips, and others. He also produced all of Buddy Holly's recordings classified as "Rockabilly." With the guidance of record producer Petty, The Crickets scored ten quick popular successes and toured nationally and internationally.
In 1957, Buddy Holly met Maria Elena Santiago, the receptionist at his music publisher in New York. A year later, Holly asked her out and five hours later they were engaged. The two were married in Lubbock shortly thereafter. Maria joined Buddy and the boys on at least one tour and assumed promotional duties. Shortly after that tour, The Crickets broke up, Buddy and Maria moved back to Maria's hometown, New York, and Buddy became a solo act.
Buddy signed to take part in a traveling bus concert tour called the "Winter Dance Party" beginning in late January of 1959 from Milwaukee, Wisconsin . Maria was in the early stages of her first pregnancy and remained in New York. Along for the ride was Richie Valens, The Big Bopper, and a young Waylon Jennings.
The weather was predictably terrible even for February at Clear Lake, Iowa in the Upper-Midwest. Rather than suffer a miserable, 365-mile bus ride to Moorhead Minnesota on an unreliable bus, Buddy chose to charter a tiny four-place airplane in a nasty snowstorm at a small airport four miles from their Clear Lake concert site despite his promise to Elena not to fly. The plane crashed and Buddy along with the pilot, Richie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) were all killed.
This version of Holly's life is a 1989 rendering by an English playwright named Alan Janes. The show enjoyed over more than a dozen years and 6000 performances in London's West End Theater District. It did not do as well on Broadway beginning at the end of 1990 and lasting just 255 performances. The show has, however, enjoyed multiple productions and tours ever since.
The New Theatre Restaurant production boasts a twenty-person cast extravaganza featuring Zachary Stevenson as Buddy, James Wright as Norman Petty, Stasha Case as Vi Petty, Jason Elliot as "The Big Bopper", Nicholas Garza as Richie Valens, and Emily Shackelford as Maria Elena. The penultimate Clear Lake Concert scene features an eight-piece orchestra and six backup singers.
Zachary Stevenson has made an art form of being Buddy Holly, having played the part in twelve different productions of the show. Not only does Zachary resemble Holly, his instrument and vocal abilities compare favorably to YouTube videos of the real singer.
New Theatre has pulled out all the stops for the "Buddy... The Buddy Holly Story." The audience thoroughly enjoys the action through twelve scenes and thirty classic songs including Buddy's most famous "Peggy Sue," "That'll Be The Day," "Words of Love," "Peggy Sue Got Married," and others.
The energy shared by this talented group of performers infects all six hundred in the New Theatre audience. You might even say this show is a slice of "American Pie." (Apologies to Don McLean) "Buddy... The Buddy Holly Story" ably directed by Joe R. Fox III and choreographed by Mandy Morris rocks on through July 7. Tickets are available at www.newtheatre.com or by telephone at 913.649.Show.
Photos courtesy of New Theatre Restaurant and Roy Inman