The Day the Music Came Back to Life— Buddy at the Ivoryton Playhouse

By Amy J. Barry

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story opened in London’s West End in 1989 and ran for over 12 years before coming to Broadway, followed by numerous productions around the world.
 
Ironically, the musical has enjoyed a much longer run than the musical career of the American pioneer of rock ‘n roll on whom the show is based. The Texas-born Buddy Holly, who gave us such marvelous, memorable songs as “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “It’s So Easy to Fall in Love,” and “Well Alright,” died in a plane crash in 1959 at 23 years of age as his records were just starting their ascent to the top of the charts.
 
The Ivoryton Playhouse production is engaging and energetic overall, despite the challenges of the book, co-written by Alan James and Rob Bettinson with which Playhouse executive director Jacqueline Hubbard, who directed this show, had to grapple. It’s as though James and Bettinson couldn’t decide on whether to write a musical or a musical review and as a result the storyline is sketchy and underdeveloped compared to the strong musical numbers, which are well-executed under the musical direction of John DeNicola, who also performs several small roles in the show.
 
Buddy opens in 1956 with Holly, played by Gregg Hammer, and his back-up band, The Crickets (John Rochette, drums; Daniel Orion Glynn, stand-up bass; and Logan Whaley, rhythm guitar) trying to break out of their Country & Western niche and get the resistant white music industry to give airtime to “that negro music”—rock ‘n roll.
 
All professional musicians as well as actors, most of the songs are performed by Holly and The Crickets live on stage –enhancing the immediacy of the production and bringing the audience back to the good old days when playing live music was equally as important as recording it.
 
We learn very little about Holly’s early life and not much more as the spotty plot progresses. Most of the action takes place in recording studios, radio stations, and on stage with allusions to Holly’s personal life—and a few romantic scenes with Maria Elena, his new wife, played by Samantha Joy Pearlman.
 
Hammer looks the part of Holly with his oversized glasses and cropped black hair. He convincingly meets the challenges of playing the electric guitar, singing, and acting his role simultaneously, although there could be a bit more bite in his portrayal of the rising rock ‘n roll star, known for refusing to compromise his musical integrity.
 
Antoine Smith and Patryce Williams shake things up at the Apollo introducing the very white band to an incredulous black audience, winning them over. Williams’s impressive vocals do great justice to “Party,” a jazzy upbeat number.
 
The production really takes off and shines in the second act, following a somewhat meandering hour-long first act. And that’s because the storyline is set aside and the focus is entirely on the musical performances.
 
The setting is the Surf Ballroom—Holly’s final concert—and Hubbard and DeNicola have put together a fabulous array of tightly choreographed talent with a brass and string section, marvelous back-up singers and dancers—including Pearlman, Alanna Burke, and Gayle Elizabeth LaBree doing a lovely a Capella rendition of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”
 
Also taking the stage in powerhouse performances is Robert Schultz, Jr. as The Big Bopper belting out “Chantilly Lace,” Khalid Rivera perfectly mirroring Ritchie Valens gyrating to “La Bamba” (both performers died along with Holly in the plane crash) and Smith putting some very slick dance moves on Johnny B. Goode.

Buddy is a joyous celebration on the Playhouse stage and even though the energy could have escalated earlier, when it finally gets to the elongated grand finale, the audience doesn’t want “The Day the Music Died” to end.
 
(box) Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story runs through Aug. 1 at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street in Ivoryton. For tickets, call the box office at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org <http://www.ivorytonplayhouse.org> .
 
This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers and online Zip06.com, July 21-22, 2010.


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