Review: MSMT's Buddy Holly Show

Posted Friday, June 6, 2014 in Culture

Review: MSMT's Buddy Holly Show

by Gina Hamilton

 Long, long time ago, a teenaged boy named Buddy Holly emerged onto the nascent rock and roll scene and started playing music that had previously been the purview of rhythm and blues with almost all-black audiences. Holly made this type of music accessible to, and acceptable to, white audiences in a way that even Elvis Presley could not.

Holly’s hits included “That’ll be the Day,” “Oh Boy,” “Peggy Sue,” and many others. It’s not too grand a statement that Buddy and his band, the Crickets, changed the face of popular music for the coming generation and the next. We’ll never know what he might have accomplished if he himself had lived beyond the age of 22. What is known is that he and his band influenced performers as diverse as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Don McLean, and Elvis Costello, as well as dozens of others.

So when Maine State Music Theatre chose the Buddy Holly Story as its opening show ... In one sentence, don’t miss this show.

Despite the unhappy ending, MSMT’s “Buddy Holly Story” is a joyous journey through rock and roll’s bridge years, between the earliest Presley years and the arrival of the Beatles, with the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and, of course, Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

The show opened with a “preshow” of the “Haymakers” performing a number of old-time country music. The musicians later appeared as members of the Crickets, as the Big Bopper, and as other cast members.

Buddy Holly (Andy Christopher, who looked and played the part to perfection) began as an occasional DJ and live performer in a tiny Lubbock, Texas radio station. His mentor and employer and friend, Hipockets Duncan (Steve Gagliastro) tries to steer him toward country music but knows his heart is in “colored” music. After a failed recording session at Decca in Nashville, Hipockets puts him in touch with a producer (Norman Petty, played by Luke Darnell) and his wife Vi (played by Lori Eure) in Clovis, New Mexico, where his music and his all-too-short career takes off. With the other members of the Crickets (Joe Cosmo Cogan and Sam Weber, and later, Matthew J. Riordan), they reach number one nationwide and get gold records. A surprise appearance at the Apollo in Harlem – surprise because they weren’t “colored” as the staff at the Apollo (Jayne Trinette and Troy Valjean Rucker) assumed – led to hilarity at first, which changes over slowly to a dazed amazement at the talent of the foursome.

Stunned by their success, the Apollo then welcomed them with open arms and made Buddy Holly and the Crickets one of the first crossover bands since the great Elvis Presley himself.

Buddy Holly meets and marries Maria Elena (Ester Stilwell) after a few hours’ courtship, then finds himself at odds with his producer and his band. Driven by the need for additional revenue, Holly sets out on the fateful winter tour just after he learns that his wife is expecting the couple’s child. 

It is almost easy to forget the way the tour ends for Holly, the Bopper, and young Ritchie Valens, in the nine song finale at the Iowa ballroom that had the audience up and dancing, clapping, singing, hooting, and laughing. When the end comes … and Hipockets announces Buddy’s untimely death over the radio … the party stops for just a moment. But then they all come back to life, and continue on as if nothing untoward had happened. And the whole Buddy Holly orchestra belts out Johnnie B. Goode, as the audience danced and sang along with them.

Every one of the characters was an expert musician as well as an actor, and being in the audience was being transported back in time from 1957 to 1959, along for a remarkable part of American popular musical history, and a brilliant part of one man’s musical career, cut tragically short. 

The Buddy Holly Show is a delight. Don’t miss it.  The show runs through June 21 at the Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin campus. Visit www.msmt.org for tickets, and don’t delay. They won’t last long.

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