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BWW Reviews: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY Attempts to Recapture Musical Magic


In 1989, The Buddy Holly Story helped establish the genre now known as jukebox musicals. It opened in London, with financial support from Paul McCartney (who owned the copyrights to Holly's music and objected to inaccuracies in the 1978 movie). The show lasted six months on Broadway, and numerous tours have been mounted ever since. Hence, twenty-five years after its inception, this two-act quasi-biography rolled out at the Memphis Orpheum last night.

The result? . . . As Paul McCartney, himself, once put it when asked if The Beatles would ever get back together, "You can't reheat souffle."

Not even a jukebox full of classic hits, "Peggy Sue," "Oh Boy," "That'll Be the Day," "Well All Right," "Not Fade Away" (and many, many more) and energetic actors who actually play their instruments make up for such hackneyed writing and uninspired direction. Ho-hum sets, drab lighting, ill fitting costumes and technical glitches compound the show's challenges.

Two acts walk us through Buddy Holly's meteoric three-year career and tragic death by way of radio D.J.'s announcing pivotal plot points the way old "B" movies used to show newspaper headlines or calendar pages--only far more often. Each transition is followed by flatly-written, music-inducing scenes that might have played better if actors hadn't been directed to telegraph their lines. Title character, Todd Meredith, in his fourteenth production as Holly has the mannerisms and musical chops down pat, but he's a bit old for the role. (Holly began his career at 19 and died tragically at 22.)

Nonetheless, it's hard to hinder the appeal of great music. The last twenty minutes--a nonstop tour-de-force concert sequence--are the show's saving grace. The show ended with audience members (the majority of whom must have been teens during Buddy Holly's zenith) on their feet clapping, dancing and singing along.

The show plays at The Orpheum Theatre - Memphis through October 20th. Tickets are on sale now and available for purchase online at the official Orpheum Theatre website, The Orpheum Box Office (901.525.3000), the ticket counter at The Booksellers at Laurelwood, and all Ticketmaster centers (901.743.ARTS).

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From This Author Caroline Sposto