You know you have a good juke-box musical when there’s an exceptional presentation of songs that mean something to the audience, and an engaging storyline that drives the music forward. Judging by the enthusiastic audience on Wednesday evening, The Barn Theatre’s production of “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" fulfills all of the above criteria.
A key element in any production of “Buddy” is the actor in the title role. For this show the Barn has cast a real gem. Andy Christopher gives a dynamic portrayal of the '50s singer who shaped Rock and Roll in its early days and left his mark on the music.
By the time Christopher sings the signature ballad “Everyday” early in the Act I, he has every heart in the house rooting for Holly. Christopher rips his way through energetic hits such as “That’ll Be the Day”, and “Not Fade Away” with the confident abandon of a seasoned performer. His vocal stylings, guitar licks, leg movements, and presence on stage evoke the young bespectacled genius who left this world all too soon in 1959.
A host of other performers, including an enthusiastic ensemble, assist in telling the story of Holly’s journey from Lubbock, Texas to stardom. Emily Agy as Marlena is a standout as she coaxes a Harlem audience into Buddy’s corner when he plays the Apollo. She’s supported in the song “Shout”, a raucous crowd favorite, by the doo-wop efforts of Chase Gray, Jabri Johnson, and Jonathan Gerry.
One of this show’s most appealing aspects is the insight it provides into the studio creation of songs like “Peggy Sue” with Buddy and his backup band the Crickets.
The show’s only weak moment is a scene depicting the dissolution of Buddy’s band. The split up doesn’t quite match the crisp execution of the production’s other non-musical scenes.
“Buddy” delivers a high note at the end, however, with the fabled Clear Lake Concert on the night of the musician’s ill-fated February flight into a blizzard. Joined on stage by the Big Bopper - played by Charlie King, and Ritchie Valens - played by Jamey Grisham, Holly and company deliver a legendary farewell performance.
Those songs include the Bopper’s theatrical “Chantilly Lace”, Valens bombshell version of “La Bamba” and Holly’s up tempo “Maybe Baby”. Completing the show is Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” - a song about another small town boy who makes it big. Christopher absolutely shreds this song on the guitar.
In a brief post-curtain speech to the audience, Christopher proclaims that “Buddy Holly is back in town”. And the Barn’s production clearly demonstrates that Holly’s music does live on almost 60 years after his death - or put another way, Buddy Holly still rocks!