His career spanned a year and a half, but in that time he revolutionized rock and roll and left an indelible fingerprint that would inspire some of the greatest performers of all time. His story is the focus of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story by Alan Janes and currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.
Janes’ script falls somewhere between a play and a jukebox musical. Precious little of Holly’s life is covered in the show. The play part focuses on certain key points in his life from his struggles as a teenager trying to become a rock star in the country music meccas of Texas and Nashville to his nabbing a recording contract with an open minded producer to his legendary Apollo performance to his whirlwind marriage to his break-up with the Crickets and, finally, to his final concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA. Needless to say, the jukebox part focuses on Holly’s hits as well as numerous other hits of the day.
Tim Seib masterfully handles the dual direction required of the production. He musters every ounce of story, nuance, and emotion from the story portion of the production. In fact, I was incredibly impressed with his work for the romance between Holly and his wife, Maria Elena Santiago, which is the richest part of the story from an acting perspective. Seib nabs an easy A+ directing the action of the musical part of the show which is good, old fashioned, pulse pounding rock and roll.
Some wonderful featured performances were supplied by Alan Gillespie as Norman Petty, the producer willing to allow Holly the chance to record music his way, but also lives up to his last name by attempting to screw Holly over by keeping the Crickets and taking the band name when Holly decides to change labels; Garrick Vaughan and Nissi Shalome as a pair of Apollo performers who give a rousing rendition of “Shout” and mercilessly heckle Holly and his band before their performance; Mike Brennan is an indefatigable cauldron of energy as J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and excels with his solo in “Chantilly Lace”.
I’d also like to give some special notice to Alix Rhode who gives a subtle and moving performance as Maria Elena Santiago. She is strong, bold, and so loving and supportive of Buddy and your heart breaks as you know her fears for Holly’s safety are all too true.
This show lives or dies by the performer playing Buddy Holly and Michael Perrie, Jr. admirably carries the load of this show on his shoulders.
Perrie IS Buddy Holly and practically reincarnates him in front of the eyes of the audience. Not only does Perrie bear a remarkable physical similarity to the late singer, but he also effortlessly emulates his look, assumes his accent and speech cadences, and even gets that unique hiccup in his voice when he sings.
Perrie brings some serious acting chops to the role. He manages to show Holly’s politeness and decency, but also his toughness as Holly wouldn’t back down from anyone when it came to his music. He also well plays Holly’s free-spirited nature. This was a man who always marched to his own beat no matter what anyone thought about his choices. He also expertly handles the heartache of Buddy’s life, shedding real tears when the Crickets abandon him and, more or less, yank the band name from him.
Musically, Perrie is also outstanding. He’s a guitar player par excellence and easily handled rock numbers such as “Not Fade Away”, “Oh, Boy!”, and “That’ll Be the Day”, but he was just as nimble and moving on the softer numbers such as “True Love Ways”, “Words of Love”, and “Heartbeat”.
Cullen Law’s musical direction was exceptional as he and his performers made these classic tunes their own. Jack Smith’s costumes were superb, from the elegant suits for the men to the pretty gowns for the ladies. Ali Strelchun has created a nice three sided set with a massive band area at center stage, a small radio station at house left, and Petty’s tiny recording studio at house right. Jess Fialko’s lights are spot on with colors and intensity matching the energy and emotions of the songs and an incredibly poignant blackout for The Day the Music Died.
I want to take a moment and applaud all of the actors for showing great poise under pressure as they battled microphone issues throughout the night, but steamrolled right over them.
Some music experts have argued that, had Holly’s life not been cut short, Buddymania may have ruled the world due to the breakthroughs he was making with music. Though his life was tragically short, he left behind an amazing legacy that is still inspiring musicians today. And if you want a taste of musical history and a fun filled time, go see this show.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through August 11. Performances are at 2pm on July 28, 31 and August 2-4, 6, 10, 11 and 7:30pm on July 31, August 2, 4, 7, 9-10. Tickets start at $24 and can be obtained at www.maplesrep.com or contacting the Box Office at 660-385-2924. Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.
Pictures supplied through courtesy of Maples Repertory Theatre
This review is dedicated to the memory of Kay McGuigan. We miss you, friend!