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