by Terrance Mc Arthur
The black-framed glasses. The shortish, curly, unruly hair. The thin body. The guitar. No, not Elvis Costello. Buddy Holly, as in Buddy Holly and the Crickets.
“That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Everyday,” “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” Oh Boy,” “Rave On,” “It’s So Easy,” and more.
Died in a plane crash with Richie Valens and the Big Bopper on February 3, 1959, what Don McLean called The Day the Music Died in his song “American Pie.”
Yeah, that Buddy Holly.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is the River City Theatre Company show at the Reedley Opera House, 1720 10th Street, in Reedley. Don’t confuse it with The Buddy Holly Story, the 1978 film with Gary Busey as Holly; this is closer to the truth.
Charles Hardin Holley came out of Texas, rewrote rock-and-roll in his image, and died after two years of fame. This jukebox musical features his music and other songs of the era. Scripted by Alan Janes in 1989, the British version ran for over 5,000 performances.
Joseph Ham has been a frequent-flyer on the River City stage, even performing as Holly for their Legends shows. Now, he explodes into maturity as Holly, capturing the singer’s quality, down to each glottal stop and his ukulele-style double-strumming. His first, full-out rockin’ vocals in the show brought me to happy tears. The look was right, the sound was right…everything was right. Beyond the songs, Ham ably shows the drive and determination that took Buddy to the top of the charts, and the Texas swagger and charm that won him his wife in five hours.
Correy Dobbins as bass player Joe B. Mauldin and Jason Awbrey as drummer Jerry Allison portray the original Crickets, with Carson Rogalsky as Nicky Sullivan, the fourth Cricket, who played lead guitar. They provide a solid rockabilly backing sound for Ham, and have the easy, joking style of longtime friends and bandmates. The music onstage is live, with everything from trumpet and sax to celeste (for the delicate chimes in some songs). Who needs a band in the orchestra pit? The whole cast is a band!
Larry Ham provides a Greek Chorus of major events in Buddy’s life as Hipockets Duncan, country & western DJ and mentor to the young musician. When the red light glows through the curtain, you know you’ll hear his rolling tones and backwoods wisdom.
Norman Petty is a troublesome figure in Buddy’s career: recording genius, swindling manager, opportunistic thief, depending on who you ask. Chris Giese manages to communicate all these qualities as he mentors and manipulates. By his side is Bernadette Tasy as Vi Petty, who brews strong coffee and rocks a mean piano.
Alexis Macedo shows innocent openness as Maria Elena (the bride Buddy couldn’t take home to his mother), whose music-industry knowledge stressed the rift between Holly and Petty. Tan Clark rocks out as the Big Bopper, and Andrew Martinez swivels his hips as Richie Valens in the final concert sequence before the fateful flight. Steven Haynes is an outrageous concert promoter in an outrageous suit, Jessica Williams and Claude Goree are performers at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem who didn’t know that Buddy Holly and the Crickets were white (Oh, Goree’s laugh is priceless).
If you love Buddy’s music, you’ll love this show and appreciate the effort and energy Ham puts into it, the musical equivalent of playing Hamlet with a guitar. If you don’t know Buddy’s music, get to Reedley as fast as you can. If you don’t like Buddy’s music…..What’s wrong with you?
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story runs through August 7. Ticket information is at www.reedleyrivercitytheatre.org/box-office, or call 559-638-6500 or 866-977-6500.
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