Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By STEVE FEENEY
The Ogunquit Playhouse has bookended this season with shows about 1950s musical icons. “Always ... Patsy Cline” started things off in May, and now “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” ushers in fall.
“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story”
WHERE: Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St, Ogunquit
DATE REVIEWED: Sept. 20; continues through Oct. 21
CONTACT: 646-5511; ogunquitplayhouse.org
Popular music would have been quite different without the two stars celebrated by these productions. Holly, particularly, had a great influence on subsequent artists.
Bob Dylan (who, as a youngster, saw Holly perform in person), John Lennon and Paul McCartney are among those who have praised and emulated the Texas singer/songwriter who died so young.
“Buddy,” as reviewed on opening night, gives us the bare bones professional biography of the young man from Lubbock who shook off pressures to conform to tradition and, with a little help from his friends, made his way to the top of the charts. Things get a bit corny at times and there’s not much in the show to tell us how his initial talent developed. We do get a few scenes of Holly refining some of his classic tunes in the studio along with a bit of sometimes awkward posturing from his bandmates.
The show, written by Alan Janes and directed by DJ Salisbury, pretty much follows the events known to those who saw the bio-film starring Gary Busey as Holly. Notably, the Apollo Theatre show closes the first act with Holly winning over an African-American audience with his powerful music. There’s the whirlwind romance with his eventual wife Maria Elena (Nikki Amone) and his falling out with The Crickets (Joe Cosmo Cogen and Sam Weber).
Trista Dollison stands out as an Apollo opener who knows how to “Shout.”
It all leads up to that fateful Midwest tour when Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens die in the crash of a small plane – “The day the music died,” as Don McLean’s song puts it from the briefly darkened stage.
It is the music that makes this show and the live performance of it, including all instrumental parts, onstage makes for some rousing moments.
Kurt Jenkins, in the lead role, plays a lot of guitar and sings credibly on classics such as “That’ll Be The Day,” “Peggy Sue” and “Oh Boy” while putting his slender body through some moves that may owe as much to Busey as to the actual Holly. But the up-tempo tunes are nicely punched out and spiritedly delivered and the ballads, including an acoustic “True Love Ways,” mostly connect.
The final scenes at the last concert in Iowa are particularly strong, with backup singers, horns, keyboards and extra guitars added to fill the venerable Playhouse with well-executed musical theater renditions of early rock ‘n’ roll.
Jayson Elliott, as the Big Bopper, playfully belts out “Chantilly Lace” while Ryan Jagru, as Richie Valens, shakes it up on “La Bamba.”
Jenkins’ Holly lets it all out on “Rave On” and is joined by the others for “Johnny B Goode.”
The poor guy only made it to age 22 but Buddy Holly’s legend endures.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.