BWW Reviews: The MUNY's Smashing BUDDY - THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY

BWW Reviews: The MUNY's Smashing BUDDY - THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY

I think that nearly every review of the MUNY's extraordinary production of Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story will probably make mention of Don McLean's song "American Pie", which is lyrically centered around the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of three of music's rising stars one very cold day in February of 1959. In fact, "the day the music died" has become a rather morbid catchphrase of sorts that has been utilized far too often by the media whenever an iconic musician passes on. I also believe I'm not alone in my assessment that this early"jukebox" musical is an absolutely terrific show that's immensely entertaining. I not only highly recommend this excellent show, but am branding it as a must see production!

Back in the late 1980's when this show first saw the light of day it was mainly due to the efforts of the person who holds the rights to Buddy's wonderful tunes; Paul McCartney. A huge Holly fan, he felt the movie that had been made with Gary Busey in the lead role was historically inaccurate, and he wanted to see that Buddy's story was done properly, so he lent his support to the project. The results were simply amazing. And now, it is making its MUNY premier to the delight of audiences who are genuinely moved by it.

The plot (book by Alan Janes) picks up as Buddy and his band, The Crickets, are booked to play a gig as a country act in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, but cannot resist the urge to rock out. Naturally, this goes over great with the kids in attendance, but not so much with the promoter. A contract with Decca records takes them into a recording studio in Nashville, where they are, once again, expected to turn Buddy's catchy songs into slow paced country numbers. After that debacle, they're introduced to Norman Petty, who gladly records the group in the manner they prefer. From there they begin to climb the charts and rise to stardom. Along the way, Buddy meets the girl of his dreams, and eventually parts ways with The Crickets. This leads to his continued ascension up the charts, and a job playing a Winter Dance Party in Clear Lake, Iowa. His decision to forgo a chilly bus ride for the comfort of a small plane leads to a tragedy that takes his life along with the pilot, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper.

Andy Christopher does superior work as Buddy, making him into a fully formed character, not just a caricature, and providing us with some tasty licks on his trademark Stratocaster in the process. With his thick black glasses firmly in place, Christopher gives voice to Buddy's great music, while also showing us the different aspects of his personality, including his determination, as well as his often playful attitude. Sam Weber demonstrates some incredible skills on the double bass as band member Joe B. Mauldin, and Joe Cosmo Cogen is sharp as a tack on drums as Jerry Allison.

Michael James Reed delivers a fine performance as Norman Petty, who takes the band under his wing, managing them and also negotiating a rather high percentage of their royalties, as well as taking co-songwriting credits. Jo Lynn Burks is funny as his wife Vi, who adds piano and celesta to some of the tracks they cut. Sharone Sayegh is splendid as the object of Buddy's affections, Maria Elena. Teressa Kindle brings down the house with a sparkling version of "Shout" at the Apollo Theater where the band performs, and Ben Nordstrom fills several roles (as do many of the actors) with considerable aplomb. Nicholas Rodriguez does a nice job as Ritchie Valens, Christopher Ryan Grant is good as the affable Big Bopper, and John Scherer makes an impression as the narrator of sorts, Highpockets Duncan. The rest of the supporting players are excellent as well.

Marcia Milgrom Dodge skillfully directs the production, keeping the tone generally light, but never losing sight of the impending tragic circumstances that will take these treasured performers from us forever. She's aided by Josh Walden's period perfect choreography, Robert Mark Morgan's supremely cool scenic design, which puts the action inside an old bake-lite radio, Nathan Scheuer's smartly conceived lighting, Matthew Young's video designs, and Tracy Christensen's era-evoking costumes. Michael Horsley's musical direction is impeccable, and captures just the right feel for each number presented.

Get your "Rave On" and come down this week to The MUNY to see Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story. I guarantee you will not be disappointed! It's easily one of the finest shows of the season, and it continues through July 19, 2015.

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From This Author Chris Gibson

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