In the fall of 2002, a phenomenon was born. The Omaha Playhouse presented Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story starring Billy McGuigan. Fueled by his dynamic performance as the iconic singer, the musical proceeded to smash Playhouse box office records and set Billy on a course as a full time professional performer. Since that fateful fall, Billy McGuigan has taken his interpretation of Buddy Holly from coast to coast with nearly 2,000 performances and setting new box office records at 6 theatres. Now he returns to where it all began with Rave On: The Buddy Holly Experience currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
The show’s title sums up the show perfectly. It is an experience and must be experienced in order to understand its grandeur. Describing this show taxes my wordsmithing to the limit. To say it is impressive seems a severe understatement. Explosively awesome is the best description I can come up with and even that seems to fall just a little short. To give you an idea of the might of this show, it received a standing ovation. . .after the first act.
McGuigan shows himself to be a true auteur with this show as he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in it. It is neither a play nor a jukebox musical. It is a character concert.
McGuigan does not play Buddy Holly. No, no, no. He BECOMES Buddy Holly. I was blown away by his performance as Holly when I saw Buddy’s original run nearly 14 years ago, but what Billy does with the character now nearly defies belief. He has every tic and nuance of Holly down to a science: voice, posture, mannerisms, singing style, you name it. But he still imbues the performance with an energy that is distinctly his own which makes the character of Holly and the music he plays just that much better.
And let’s understand something. McGuigan is one polished musician. His execution of Holly’s songs was deadly accurate and he ran through the classics such as True Love Ways, Rave On, Oh, Boy, and That’ll Be the Day. But, with ease, he also sailed through many obscure Holly numbers such as Lonesome Tears, Modern Don Juan, and Handsome Brown-Eyed Man. And he does it all with a lively and infectious energy as he bantered with the audience and got everybody clapping and singing along.
A front man is only as strong as his backup band and the Raybandits brought it all and more with a night of surefire musicianship and their own shining moments.
The flawless rhythm of Rich Miller’s drumming will have you thinking he is the second coming of Ringo Starr. Miller especially amazes with a solo number where he turns a simple cardboard box into a masterful piece of percussion work. Jay Hanson’s lead guitar sizzled all night long. Tara Vaughan’s fingers danced along the piano keys and her sultry alto kept the audience rapt during a performance of Willie Nelson’s Crazy. The acoustic guitar and bass work of Ryan and Matthew McGuigan were second to none. Ryan McGuigan awed the audience as his John Lennonesque voice soared in Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba and Matthew McGuigan revved up the crowd with Chuck Berry’s Johnny B Goode.
The title of this review may be a little more prophetic than you think. Pictures of Billy McGuigan’s history as Buddy Holly were set all over the theatre and one telling photo was listed simply as “The End 16/17”, suggesting that Billy may be retiring the role of Buddy Holly once and for all. If this be the case, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to get a ticket to catch the greatest interpreter of Buddy Holly before it’s too late. As the opening night performance was nearly sold out, odds are high that this run is going to run out of tickets mighty quick. Do not delay and prepare yourself for a night of colossal fun.
Rave On: The Buddy Holly Experience plays at the Omaha Playhouse through June 26. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $40 and can be obtained through the Playhouse’s web site at www.omahaplayhouse.com or call the Box Office at 402-553-0800. The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.