By Beki Pineda
Photo Credit: BDT Stage
BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY. Written by Alan Janes; directed by Wayne Kennedy. Produced by BDT Stage (5500 Arapahoe Road) through Nov. 14. Tickets available at 303-449-6000 or www.bdtstage.com.
If you lived in the late ’50s anywhere in America, you knew the music of Buddy Holly. In three short but productive years, he changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll forever. He incorporated his country and Western roots, the rhythm and blues he heard on the radio, and his own love of the new music of the time into an original sound almost everyone loved. Early in his career, with equal ease, he opened for both Elvis Presley and Bill Haley. After his first big hit—”That’ll be the Day”—his fame and popularity continued to grow. Because he encouraged innovative beats and was at home with both pounding rhythms and slow-dancing ballads, he didn’t run into the same sort of censorship that other rock ‘n’ roll stars faced. His music pleased everyone. My generation remembers firsthand The Day the Music Died, when Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens were all killed in an airplane crash in Iowa.
This exuberant musical pays tribute to the life and the music of Buddy Holly. He was a man who went his own way and created his own rules. Brett Ambler as Buddy creates the music and demonstrates the enthusiasm with which Holly lived his life. He took control of his musical career, he was true to the ones who started with him, and he married the girl he fell in love with at first sight. Brett’s Midwestern looks and talent with the guitar serve him in good stead in this production. The Crickets—Buddy Holly’s backup band—are played by Matt Gnojek and Brian Jackson with an energy that matches the music they are playing.
May I just say before I get too much further along that Robert Johnson still has it. There may be gray in the hair, but that doesn’t slow down the smooth and sexy delivery of his musical talent. The scene when the band first plays the Apollo Theater is one of the cutest in the show. Buddy and the boys had not yet appeared on TV’s “Ed Sullivan Show,” so considering the type of music they were putting out, the Apollo management assumed they were African-American. Imagine their surprise. After one number, Robert as the MC at the club becomes a big fan.
On the final Winter Dance Tour, Buddy is joined by J.P. Richardson, known professionally as The Big Bopper, whose first hit was “Chantilly Lace.” Brian Murray was born to play the Big Bopper. Not only does he sound exactly like him, he has the build and looks as well. Also on board was up-and-coming Latino singer Richie Valens, who immortalized “La Bamba” and is artfully played in this production by Alejandro Roldan. The cast is replete with backup singers, other band members who go in and out, and dancers who bring back the ’50s. If you are not tapping your foot or clapping your hands, check your pulse. You might be dead.
A giant jukebox symbolically dominates the set, and everything else comes and goes in and out of this jukebox. Simple but effective. The finale, which features rocking versions of “Johnny B. Goode” and “Oh, Boy!” has everyone on their feet dancing.
WOW factor: 8.5