Dilettante: Buddy Holly rocks Ogunquit Playhouse

Posted Wednesday, September 26, 2012 in Culture

Dilettante: Buddy Holly rocks Ogunquit Playhouse

Sam Weber, left, as Joe B. Mauldin and Kurt Jenkins as Buddy Holly cavort with a bass in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse.

by Jan Brennan

Kurt Jenkins looks like Buddy Holly, sounds like Buddy Holly, and plays guitar even better than Buddy Holly.

The talented star of “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” at the Ogunquit Playhouse easily carries the show  — and he doesn’t have to. All the elements of this fun jukebox musical  — the versatile actor/musicians, period costumes, colorful sets and fast-paced direction  — come together to create a show that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

We all know the story: Rebellious teens full of youthful confidence buck their conservative elders to play rock ‘n’ roll, find success and love, and come to a tragic end. The book adds no new elements to the familiar band-forms-and-breaks-up plot, but in this case that’s OK; the polished package and overabundance of talent had the grey-haired audience, well, not literally dancing in the aisles, but almost. We all were out of our seats, bopping and swaying through two encores on opening night last Thursday.

Director/choreographer DJ Salisbury keeps the energy level buzzing throughout the show by having radio DJs and singers perform on the apron during scene changes, so the action never lets up for an instant. He also has a good eye for authenticity; I appreciated the small drum set appropriate to the time period, for example, and the bored demeanor of tech workers at the radio stations and recording studio, too jaded to react to the talent in front of them.

And oh boy, what talent! Jenkins plays Buddy as a kid bursting with energy, full of passion for both his music and life in general. His sweet, beautiful singing voice justifies his teenage hubris. Equally impressive are Jayson Elliott as The Big Bopper and Ryan Jagru as Ritchie Valens. They not only sound exactly like their real-life characters,  but their exuberance and pure joy in performing made me feel like I was watching their actual 1959 concert, not just actors recreating it. I’m sure I was not the only one who felt that way; the sensitively handled announcement of their deaths in a plane crash brought a loud gasp from the audience.

Buddy’s band, the Crickets, is ably portrayed by Joe Cosmo Cogen, Sam Weber and Andy Christopher, all fine instrumentalists and singers as well as actors. Weber’s antics with his stand-up bass are especially fun to watch. Another standout in the cast is Trista Dollison, who electrified the house with her solo rendition of “Shout” in Act I and toned her charisma down only slightly to play an adorable backup singer in Act II.

Both acts end with concerts, and the audience is cleverly engaged by Dollison and Troy Valjean Rucker as New York MCs in Act I and Matt Allen as the Iowa MC in Act II. Allen’s ad-libbing  was especially amusing when he summoned a hapless audience member to the stage and made him play a kazoo. I’ll grade us a B-minus for our role as the audience at the Apollo Theatre  — too much Maine restraint, not enough Harlem enthusiasm. We did much better in Act II as Buddy’s last audience in Clear Lake, Iowa. We were singing along, clapping in rhythm, finally leaping out of our seats as the cast turned themselves into a big band and tore into such ‘50s favorites as “Chantilly Lace,” “La Bamba,” “Rave On” and “Oh Boy.” We danced out of the theater humming and smiling; it was a great night of music, and a great way for Ogunquit to end its 80th season.

 “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” runs through Oct. 21. For ticket information go to www.OgunquitPlayhouse.org or phone the Ogunquit Playhouse at (207) 646-5511.


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