Ogunquit Playhouse is closing out its 81st season with a revival of last year’s smash hit “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.” And the production once again has patrons dancing in their seats.
“Buddy” is tailor-made for music lovers of any age. For those who grew up listening to the music of Buddy Holly, the production offers the opportunity to see a live concert that features a performer who most only got to hear on record or radio. Younger patrons get to experience first-hand a music legend.
Kurt Jenkins may not be Buddy Holly, but he sure looks, sounds and acts like the real deal.
There are a number of musicals out today that showcase music from the ’50s, but “Buddy” gives more than the standard production. The actors in “Buddy” aren’t just pretending to be musicians. The instruments are real, and the performers definitely can play them.
The playhouse is transformed into a rock ’n’ roll concert hall with rousing renditions of such classics as “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Maybe Baby,” “Raining in My Heart” and “Rave On” by Buddy Holly. The audience is also treated to Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” and the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace.”
There’s an immense amount of talent on stage for this production. Jenkins returns to Ogunquit fresh off the national tour of “Buddy.” And he doesn’t just know his role. It’s like he’s channeling the legendary performer, in all his nerdish glory.
“Elvis you are not; you’ve got about as much sex appeal as a telegraph pole,” Hipockets Duncan (James Beaman) tells Jenkins’ Buddy in the opening scene. It’s true, but like the original, Jenkins is gifted, infectious and positively irresistible.
A cast of supporting characters amp up the fun. One of the most entertaining to watch perform is Sam Weber as Cricket bass player Joe B. Mauldin. He doesn’t just play the stand-up bass; he swing dances with it, lies on it, stands on it and hefts it behind his head, without missing a beat in his performance. In Act Two, patrons also are treated to him performing on trumpet and delivering a vocal solo on “American Pie.”
Kyle Lacy (Jerry Allison) and Matthew J. Riordan (4th Cricket) fabulously show off their inner-rock ’n’ rollers as the Crickets’ drummer and guitarist.
Although Buddy Holly and the Crickets are featured, the show also resurrects the Big Bopper (Jayson Elliott) and Ritchie Valens (Xavier Cano), who met their untimely deaths with Holly in 1959.
Elliott is bigger than life as the Big Bopper, and Cano certainly knows how to shake his hips. Both more than do justice to the memories of these unforgettable performers.
Throughout the show, the Ogunquit Playhouse doubles for a variety of performance spaces from January 1956 to the plane crash in February 1959. At the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Kimberly Michelle Thomas and Troy Valjean Rucker deliver a roof-raising rendition of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” with Thomas on vocals and Rucker on soulful sax.
“Buddy” also features outstanding acting and musical performances by Erica Aubrey (Vi Petty, piano/celeste), Scott Moss (Norman Petty, bass), Linnea Larsdotter (Mary Lou, Shirley, violin/backing vocals), Steve Gagliastro (Murry Deutch, Roles, trombone), Nikki Arnone (Maria Elena, vocals) and Jason Cohen (interview DJ, ensemble, musical director).
Ogunquit’s rendition of “Buddy” makes it easy to forget this is a musical play, and not a musical documentary. It feels like the audience has been transported back in time to witness the historical events unfolding. And, the songs aren’t just musical numbers. They’re part of a rock ’n’ roll concert that might very well be even more exciting and energetic than the real McCoy was over 50 years ago.
April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at: