Stock elements in “The Buddy Holly Story” don’t hinder the appeal of the singer’s hit songs.
Being primarily a classical-music person, I knew only the rough outlines of Buddy Holly’s life and music before I attended “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” at Ordway Center Thursday evening. I didn’t know what I was missing. The show enthusiastically recreates the idiosyncratic style of the rock ‘n’roll legend.
The play by Alan Janes follows the typical musician bio trajectory: a young rebel taking on the establishment, a naïf taken advantage of by an unscrupulous record producer, a fairy-tale romance, then success going to his head.
The bare bones narrative often takes the easy way out, like using narration to connect the dots, and making scant effort at character development. At the end, there are many loose ends. But Janes handles the final tragedy movingly and without melodrama.
Anyway, it isn’t the plot that will bring people to “Buddy.” It’s the music. And that’s where this show excels, with theatre-rocking performances of such hits as “Peggy Sue,” “That’ll Be the Day” “Oh Boy” and “Johnny B. Goode.” And the production truly honors the music, not playing abbreviated segments, but full versions of the songs.
Kurt Jenkins resembles the singer and conjures his style. But he is a strong musician in his own right and makes the music come alive.
The script uses broad comedy to move the story along, an overused gag about Holly’s mother being pretty typical. Director/choreographer Norb Joerder never lets anything get in the way of a celebration of the music, playing up the physical comedy of the musicians’ stage antics.
An especially strong scene is Holly’s New York debut at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. He was engaged because the management thought, given his performance style, that he was black. In a sequence of four theatrically staged numbers, he is shown winning over that audience.
The final scene evokes the excitement of that amazing final performance in Clear Lake, Iowa. It features standout performances from Ryan Jagru, as Ritchie Valens, almost stealing the show with “La Bamba,” and Ryan G. Dunkin, as The Big Bopper, singing “Chantilly Lace.”
By the end, the audience was on its feet, clapping and dancing along. You don’t need to be a Buddy Holly aficionado to understand why.
William Randall Beard writes about theater and music.