Buddy Storms the Stage

Jesse White stars as Buddy Holly in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story”

A teenager in Lubbock, TX completely changes the landscape of rock and roll with his unique sound.  This is the story of Buddy Holly.  It’s the show that’s part biopic and part rock musical.  It’s Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story playing this weekend at several venues under the auspices of Rave On Productions.

It must be cosmic coincidence.  Back in 2002, this show was having its preview night at the Omaha Community Playhouse when inclement weather forced a halt to the show, though the audience members were entertained by Buddy in the Playhouse’s basement.  Nearly 19 years later, the first public performance is again halted by bad weather at the height of the climactic Winter Dance Party concert, but the weather was prophetic as the performers were putting on a storm of their own at SumTur Amphitheatre before the festivities had to be stopped.  And for those of you who were at tonight’s show, you’ll be able to watch the whole thing again tomorrow or Sunday by responding to the Eventbrite e-mail you’ll be receiving.

Billy McGuigan steps away from the role he originated to serve as producer, co-director, and co-musical director this time around.  In tandem with Kimberly Faith Hickman, he serves up a rocking good time with a show as their direction is spot on.  It delivers the fun and the music and hits a couple of Buddy’s serious moments well, especially during his early days when he was struggling to make rock and roll in an area dominated by country music.  McGuigan’s personal experience with the role of Buddy is especially noticeable as his lead performer had every jot and tittle of Holly’s mannerisms and personality down cold.

This show truly does rise and fall on the shoulders of its title character and Jesse White was assuredly the man for the job.  White does a marvelous job in the role of Holly with his flawless accent and he captured Holly’s one of a kind singing style right down to the little hiccup Holly liked to throw in and thrilled the audience with a slew of Holly hits such as “Oh Boy”, “Peggy Sue”, “Every Day”, and “That’ll Be the Day”.  White assuredly makes the role his own, making Holly a very polite and respectful young man who is determined to make his music his way and succeeds beyond his wildest dreams.  When I closed my eyes during “True Love Ways”, I forgot where White ended and Buddy began as his vocals were a perfect match right down to the slight vibrato in his voice.  White did some impressive guitar work and some truly dynamite improv as, in character, he directed audience members to spots of safety during the storm.

Some excellent supporting performances were supplied by Jonathan Berger whose rich baritone made him a superb narrator as Hipockets Duncan.  Ryan McGuigan swipes his scenes with his awesome comedic timing as Joe Maudlin.  Eric Perlstein is a delightful prick as a snotty Decca producer trying to bend Buddy to his will and revved up the audience with his turn as the Big Bopper when he performed “Chantilly Lace”.  And Billy McGuigan has a nice turn as the M.C. for the Winter Dance Party in Clear Lake.

The musical direction of Matthew & Billy McGuigan was right on the money with interpretations so accurate you’d swear you had gone back in time to the 1950s.  Bradley Pesarchick’s costumes took us back to another era and I especially enjoyed the dresses he made for the jingle and backup singers as they invoked memories of sock hops of yesteryear.  Craig Marsh’s sound engineering well balanced the voices and instruments.  Craig Lee’s artistry made me feel like I was really at the Surf Ballroom.

There were a few moments where some of the actors needed to be a bit bolder with their performances.  The interpretation was there, but they needed to just cut loose and go for the gusto.  That aside, this cast did have the audience eating out of the palms of their hands and dancing in their seats and is another home run for Rave On Productions’ freshman season of theatre.

Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story runs through the end of the weekend.  On Saturday, it performs at Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield, NE at 7:30pm and closes Sunday at 7pm at Davies Amphitheatre in Glenwood, IA.  Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased at theomahaseries.com/buddyholly

The Eve the Music Returned

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In a time when the world has begun to take the tiniest of steps back to normalcy, it’s a relief to know that there are still some constants in the world.  And one of those constants is the awesomeness of a live show with Billy McGuigan and his band.  That awesomeness is available for your enjoyment again as Billy and his band bring you Rave On:  The Music of Buddy Holly in the parking lot of the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This time around the show is not about Billy being Buddy or his extemporaneous wit and humor.  This time, it’s all about a band playing non-stop, untarnished, unvarnished, old-fashioned rock and roll with a 50s drive-in flair on an unseasonably perfect night for an outdoor concert.

It wouldn’t be a Billy McGuigan show without some of his classic storytelling, but the tales were kept to a minimum as he and his band were clearly hungry for a live audience and gave us their all in a 90 minute rockfest that featured the hits and obscurities of the late, great Buddy Holly along with a few other surprises as well.

McGuigan was in rare form tonight as he fueled himself on the applause and horn honks of an energetic audience and fired that energy right back at us with takes on “Maybe Baby”, “That’ll Be the Day”, “Handsome Brown Eyed Man”, a rare performance of one of Holly’s earliest recordings, “Midnight Shift”, and a 15 minute medley framed by “Oh, Boy!”.  Occasionally Billy would slow things down a few notches with his mellifluous tenor serenading the crowd with Richie Valens’ “Donna” and Holly’s own legendary soft song “True Love Ways” before ramping it back up a bit with “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” and the Everly Brothers hits, “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Suzie” and closing things out with “Rave On” and an original rocker of his own creation, “Me and Peggy Sue”.

McGuigan was excellently supported by his band as we were treated to numerous saxophone solos from Darren Pettit and nearly as many guitar solos from Max Meyer, a phenom with chops to rival Jimi Hendrix.  Ryan McGuigan rocked out on rhythm guitar and provided a nifty little solo with Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” while Matthew McGuigan’s bass playing drove the beat and he got his own little chance to shine with Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”.  Newcomer Larell Ware dazzled on the drums as he supported the night’s numbers with a thunderous backbeat.

If you want to enjoy one of the simple pleasures of life, then you need to get a ticket to see our local master musician as he interprets the classics of a legendary artist as only he can.

Rave On:  The Music of Buddy Holly runs through June 28 in the parking lot of the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6:30pm. Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased online at www.omahaplayhouse.com or by phone at 402-553-0800.  This is a cashless event and reservations are required.  CDC guidelines are being followed and parking spaces will be assigned upon arrival.  Please do not arrive earlier than 90 minutes before showtime.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

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Top photo provided by Analisa Swerczek

The Night the Music Lived

Buddy Holly Story

Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly

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.

Music Lived

The Day the Music Died (Left to right: Mike Brennan as the Big Bopper, Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly, & Chase Tucker as Ritchie Valens)

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!

You’ll Wish this Show Would ‘Not Fade Away’

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.

Billy McGuigan Returns to the Playhouse as Buddy Holly

Since 2002, Billy McGuigan has taken his interpretation of Buddy Holly from coast to coast achieving critical acclaim and setting box office records around the nation.  Now Billy returns to where it all began when he and his Rave On band bring Rave On:  The Buddy Holly Experience back to the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Prepare yourself for a high energy character concert as Billy McGuigan entertains you as the legendary lead man for the Crickets with hits such as That’ll Be the Day, Not Fade Away, True Love Ways, Peggy Sue, and more!!  Billy’s Buddy will also pay tribute to his fellow luminaries:  Ritchie Valens, Big Bopper, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Chuck Berry.

Rave On:  The Buddy Holly Experience runs at the Omaha Playhouse from June 10-26.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $40.  For tickets contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit the website at http://www.omahaplyahouse.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.