Charles Hardin Holley of Lubbock, Texas, dropped the last “e” and became everybody’s “Buddy” during his too-brief life in the emerging world of rock ‘n roll.
His story, as told in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” opened Tuesday evening on the stage of The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI. It was the first of what has now become a familiar theatrical genre known as the “jukebox musical.”
If some of the characters may be composites and the chronology sometimes a bit difficult to follow, there is nothing lacking in the music which, on Tuesday, was obviously more than familiar to the enthusiastic audience.
The show is directed by rock ‘n roll aficionado Brendan Ragotzy
The title role is played by guest artist Andy Christopher who, coincidentally, was working as an EMT in Lubbock, Texas when he auditioned for the part. That was 2010 and he has been Buddy Holly ever since.
Tall and lanky with dark curly hair and the requisite horn-rimmed glasses (needed or not), Christopher obviously is comfortable with his theatrical persona, a character into which he definitely warmed up as the action progressed.
It is to his credit that he avoided any semblance of caricature, a trap into which some of his fellow “rockers” unfortunately stumbled.
The focus here, as it should be, is on Holly. His focus, after opening for Elvis Presley three times, shifted from gospel and country to rock. Determined to do “My music, my way,” he moved from Nashville to a producer in Clovis, N.M. and, seemingly without missing a beat, turned out “That’ll Be The Day.”
The rest, as they say too often, is history.
This show, written by Alan James, of necessity gives short shrift to all the details in Holly’s life, concentrating instead on the music and the one love of his life, Maria Elena Santiago (a very compassionate Andrea Arvanigian), whom he met and married in less than a day.
Even though everyone on stage and off obviously knows the tragic ending to the story, the only sense of foreboding is felt by his wife who reportedly dreams about a ball of fire in the sky.
That ball became a reality in February 1959, just two years after Holly’s break into rock ‘n roll stardom, when a private plane crashed killing the pilot, Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. Here the mention of it is bookended by “Rave On!” “Johnny B. Goode” and “Oh Boy,” which allow no time for tears. (all I could think of was Don McLean and “American Pie”)
Obviously the most important ingredients in any jukebox musical are the singers and THE BAND. Here the four piece band, under the direction of Barn music director Matt Shabala , fits the bill without dropping a note (although at times it as so loud they could have dropped several and I couldn’t have told the difference.).
Christopher provides his own guitar riffs and also sings well and offers several rock steps without breaking a leg!
A vocal standout is Emily Agy as “Marlena,” a mix of the many singer/mc’s at the Apollo Theatre. She rocks the hall with “Shout!” proving that tall talent can live in short bodies.
The joke about Buddy’s meal-obsessed mom wears thin after a while and other relationships — Buddy’s early manager Norman Petty and wife Vi (Eric Parker and Penelioe Alex) and Lubbock dj Hipsockets Duncan (Hans Friedrichs) — come and go fairly quickly, but the music goes on and on and on and, after all, that’s what the people came to hear/see.
Scenic designer Samantha Snow deserves applause for the music-themed set with features sound booths stage left and right and a revolving sheet music panel which allows quick changes of locale (except for the crew member pulling the rope to make it change0.
The downside to this production is the in-and-out sound which is blasting during musical numbers and, at too many times, disappears during dialogue, leaving us to ponder what is being said.
Buddy Holly is center stage surrounded by the Crickets (Quinn Moran and Alex Crossland) and friends and Clear Lake is eclipsed by a wonderful wave of music.
BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY plays through July 9 in The Barn Theatre on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations call (269) 731-4121.