Gil Benbrook | Talkin’ Broadway | August 6, 2015
Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story is a slim musical biography that tells the story of the legendary rocker from his rise to fame at the age of 21 to his untimely death, just two years later, in 1959. While Alan Janes’ book is slight, hearing over a dozen of Holly’s hits plus other well-known tunes from the era, played by some exceptionally gifted musicians, results in a rocking good time, and Fountain Hills Theater’s production is a winner with a stellar performance from Jack Lambert as Holly.
The musical follows Holly from his teen years in Lubbock, Texas, where he preferred to play rock over country, through the recording of his many hit songs with producer Norman Petty. It also briefly touches on the tragic plane crash that took his life after his meteoric rise to the top of the charts. That accident, forever immortalized in the song “American Pie” and dubbed “The Day the Music Died,” as it also took the lives of fellow rockers Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), doesn’t overshadow the upbeat nature of the story but adds a touching footnote on just how short Holly’s life was. But first we are treated to excellent renditions of many of Holly’s hits including “That’ll Be the Day,” “Oh Boy,” and “Peggy Sue,” all effectively demonstrating how Holly’s rockabilly sound not only was a major influence on many big names in the music industry who came after him, but also still sounds fresh and vibrant today.
While Jack Lambert may not quite have Holly’s signature gangly frame and dorky looks, he perfectly exhibits the lovable, infectious intensity and rambunctious traits Holly was known for and that were captured on his appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Lambert also delivers an almost perfect mimicry of Holly’s trademark singing style, full of vocal hiccups and a soulful energy. His guitar skills are impressive as well, including a superbly played, and sung, second act solo of “True Love Ways.” Lambert also exudes a huge dose of charm and spontaneity that, when combined with everything else he brings to the part, makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time to witness first-hand the rise of this legendary rocker.
The majority of the second act focuses on that fateful final concert in February 1959 at the Clear Lake Winter Dance Party before the tragic plane crash with Sky Donovan a firecracker as Valens, singing a rousing version of “La Bamba,” and Bill Bennett exceptionally joyful as the Big Bopper. Buddy doesn’t dig too deep into Holly’s past or his musical influences and also doesn’t give much stage time to the behind the scenes drama, focusing solely on the creation of the music. This is all fine, but it means the supporting cast mainly portray two-dimensional characters. Still, Natalie Kilker is touching as Holly’s wife Maria Elena Santiago and Peter J. Hill (who also directed this production) is appropriately all business as Petty. Alex Gonzalez adds a nice amount of humor and sincerity as local Lubbock radio DJ, “Hi-Pockets” Duncan, whose radio announcements serve as the main narration of the piece, and Lizz Reeves Fidler shows a bit of sass beneath the sweetness of Petty’s wife Vi. Bailey Zick and Joshua SantaCruz add plenty of skilled musicianship as Holly’s fellow “Crickets” bandmates and Enrique D. Lara’s guitar skills are excellent as the lead guitarist of this production.
Under Hill’s adept direction, the production rocks and rolls from start to finish but also affords several sweet moments that allow us to grasp Holly’s connection with his fellow band members as well as his wife. Hill also provides the set design which, while hardly elaborate with just a few set pieces, works to move us from location to location, especially when combined with Todd Carrie’s fun, period-centric projections. Mickey Courtney’s colorful costumes include plenty of period country touches and Hill’s light design is effective in providing the book scenes with a sharp focus as well as raising the concert segments into full out rock mode. Jay Melberg is to be commended for his skilled musical direction, especially since all of the actors play their own instruments, and play them very well.
Simply not just a biography of Holly, but more a tribute, Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story is a crowd-pleasing jukebox musical that does a good job in recreating the excitement around the early days of rock and roll. While you may not learn everything there is to know about Holly, the musical explodes into a full out concert, with the entire cast providing the musical accompaniment and singing backup, that has both the cast and the audience rocking out. The combination of that concert finale and Lambert’s wonderful portrayal of Holly turn Fountain Hills Theater’s production of Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story into a bolt of rock ‘n’ roll lightning.
Fountain Hills Theater’s production of Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story runs through August 16th, 2015, with performances at 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd. in Fountain Hills. Information on tickets can be found atwww.fhtaz.org or by calling 480-837-9661.
Directed by Peter J. Hill
Music Director: Jay Melberg
Choreographed by: Noel Irick
Costumer: Mickey Courtney
Stage Manager: Kendra Lytle
Hair & Make-up: Patsy Johnson & MaryBeth Ingram
Properties: Patty Torrilhon
Set/Light Design: Peter Hill
Projection/Sound Design: Todd Carrie
Cast: Buddy Holly: Jack Lambert
Joe B. Mauldin (Double Bass): Bailey Zick
Jerry Allison (Drummer): Joshua SantaCruz
4th Cricket (Lead Guitarist): Enrique D. Lara
Hi Pockets Duncan/Ensemble: Alex Gonzalez
Norman Petty: Peter J. Hill
Vi Petty/Ensemble: Lizz Reeves Fidler
The Big Bopper/Producer: Bill Bennett
Ritchie Valens/First Engineer/Ensemble: Sky Donovan
Second Engineer/Apollo DJ/Clearlake MC/Ensemble: Michael LeSueur
Apollo Performer/Ensemble: Elizabeth Jennings
Apollo Performer/Ensemble: Debbie Wood
Maria Elena/Ensemble: Natalie Kilker
Ensemble: Amy Burnett
Ensemble: Tanya Schoenwolf
Band Member – Alto Sax: Brad Audrain
Band Member – Trumpet: Jayson Davis
Band Member – Keyboards: Jay Melberg
Band Member – Trombone: Javone Patton