note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Although the careers of rock ‘n’ roll greats Buddy Holly, (nee’ Charles Hardin Holley), 22, Ritchie Valens, 17, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28, were short-lived because the three perished in a plane crash Feb. 2, 1959, their music lives on, inspiring multigenerational audiences to wriggle in their seats, clap to the beat and dance in the aisles.
At Ogunquit Playhouse’s rollicking production of Alan Janes’ two-act musical, “Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story,” appearing through Oct. 21, it’s one big celebration of Buddy Holly’s meteoric rise to stardom, from a teen-age small country-western radio show performer in his hometown, Lubbock, Texas, to his skyrocketing to the top of rock ‘n’ roll charts with his innovative music and style.
Ogunquit goes a step further, with its multitalented cast that acts, sings, dances, and accompanies itself playing musical instruments, under the inspirational direction and supervision of Eric Scott Anthony and John Bannister. Director-Choreographer DJ Salisbury capitalizes on the performers’ versatility, as they radiate an upbeat chemistry and cohesion. This 14-member cast, with many also playing multiple small roles, sends sparks and shock waves through the swaying audience.
Ogunquit’s plan probably saves the theater money, by not having to hire an orchestra. They don’t need it. These outstanding performers unleash the full measure of their talent here.
Don’t get me wrong. There are no cut corners here. Robert Kovach’s varied sets, from the rudimentary small Southern radio stations to Harlem’s glitzy, all-African-American Apollo Theater; from Buddy Holly’s modest home, to Iowa’s Surf Ballroom, with its swirling disco ball, nicely accented by Richard Latta’s lighting changes, are fabulous. Colleen Grady’s 1950‘s costumes and Jeremy Oleska’s sound effects are first-rate reminiscences of the “devil-making, colored,” controversial rock ‘n’ roll era.
Kurt Jenkins adeptly morphs from geeky-looking, bespectacled, determined youthful performer Buddy Holly to a megastar. He’s loyal to his accompanying back-up, hometown buddies, Jerry Allison (Joe Cosmo Cogen) and Joe Mauldin (Sam Weber). Holly’s manager, Hipockets Duncan (Matt Allen), knows Buddy’s music is unacceptable to Texas redneck radio stations who demand only country-western, but Buddy refuses to concede. Hipockets sets Buddy up with New Mexico rock ‘n’ roll recording manager Norm Petty, (Luke Darnell), whose promotion and guidance catapult Holly and the Crickets to the top of the charts. Petty’s wife Vi, (Danielle Erin Rhodes) joins the boys’ recording sessions, adding her piano skills while infusing comedy.
Dynamic Apollo performers Trista Dollison and Troy Valjean Rucker set the bar sky-high with their bombastic renditions, while Boston favorite Steve Gagliastro revs up the crowd and the comedy meter with his many personalities.
There are tender moments, too. When Buddy meets the lovely Maria Elena (Nikki Arnone), it’s love at first sight. They marry shortly thereafter.
And when veteran Big Bopper performer Jayson Elliott rocks the theater to the rafters with his “Chantilly Lace,” followed by dynamic Ryan Jagru, gyrating and trilling as Ritchie Valens in “La Bamba,” the Playhouse hits a fevered pitch.
Excluding Buddy Holly’s youthful rise and demise, Janes’ biographic story is typical. Holly battled finely-drawn, recording/performance standards of the day, refusing to compromise on making his own kind of music.
As Holly battled country-western moguls for air and stage time, his songs, such as “That’ll Be The Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Maybe Baby,” “Not Fade Away,” “Every Day,” and others broke records nationally and internationally.
Instead of ending tragically - the day the music died - time stops. The Big Three are silhouetted on stage, then break into one, big jam session, spilling and dancing in the aisles, leaving even the most strait-laced feeling groovy.
BOX INFO: Two-act musical written by Alan Janes, appearing through Oct. 21 at the Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main Street (Route 1), Ogunquit, Maine: Tuesday-Friday, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m.; matinees, Wednesday, Thursday, at 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, 3:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets start at $39. For showtimes, tickets, or more information, call the Box Office at 207-646-5511 or visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org