‘Buddy Holly Story’ musical is not quite all right
BY HEDY WEISS Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org June 20, 2013 12:32PM
Buddy Holly (Andy Christopher) and the Crickets play the Apollo Theater in “Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story.”
‘BUDDY — THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY’
When: Through June 30
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph
Info: (800) 775-2000; BroadwayInChiago.com
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission
Updated: July 23, 2013 6:06AM
If you are going to die young you had better live like a blazing comet in the little time allotted to you.
Buddy Holly, that rock and roll pioneer from Lubbock, Texas, had no inkling he would die in a plane crash one wintry night in 1959, at the age of 22. Yet in the three short years that preceded his death he was, unquestionably, on fire. He catapulted himself out of the conservative country music mold into which he was born, and soared into the chart-topping, Fender Stratocaster stratosphere of multiple hit records. Inspired by Elvis Presley, he himself would inspire the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and many others with such songs as “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Well... All Right,” “Not Fade Away,” “True Love Ways” and many more — all created over a period of just 18 months or so.
This is the story told in “Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story,” the 1989 musical that more or less set the template for a slew of “jukebox” musicals from “The Jersey Boys” to “Million Dollar Quartet.”
The show, now in a national touring company revival that will play at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through June 30, certainly does not skimp on the music. Its two dozen songs (many, but not all, by Holly), are performed with zest, with several in the cast doubling as instrumentalists. But the show’s book, by Alan Janes, is a very slender thread. And director-choreographer Norb Joerder only makes matters worse by having his actors telegraph every line rather than simply playing each scene for its truth. The result is a production that easily sets your feet tapping but leaves your heart wholly disengaged. What a shame.
As the singing, guitar-playing Buddy — a nerdy guy described as having “the sex appeal of a telephone pole” — Andy Christopher (who alternates in the marathon role with Kurt Jenkins), bursts with energy. But while he suggests some of the songwriter’s surface volatility, stubbornness and artistic self-confidence, he fails to capture any real rockabilly charm or vulnerability.
The scenes with Maria Elena Santiago (the pretty but far from subtle Noellia Hernandez), are a case in point. A young Latin-American receptionist Holly meets at the office of his New York music publisher, Maria Elena is sort of a precursor of Yoko Ono — the woman who causes a rift between Holly and his band, The Crickets.
It is love at first sight for these two, with Holly proposing to her within five hours of their first meeting. And she was pregnant when his plane went down — a plane that also carried 17-year-old Ritchie Valens, of “La Bamba” fame (played by Ryan Jagru) and The Big Bopper (Ryan G. Dunkin). But (as Diana Morales, that character from “A Chorus Line,” sings), “I felt nothing.”
Another pivotal scene — when Holly and The Crickets play the Apollo in Harlem, and are initially assumed to be black — also is rendered with thudding obviousness, though the R&B star who taunts them (played by Lacretta Nicole), has a big voice and plenty of sass. (The cast also features Joe Cosmo Cogen as Holly’s excellent drummer, Jerry Allison.)
Do you leave the theater happy? Well, it’s hard to be immune to a jukebox full of Holly’s hits. But you might find yourself wishing the whole thing were a whole lot less mechanical.