The companionable 'Buddy' Musical leaves Mechanic audience dancing in aisles

Theater

December 12, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

BUDDY,'' the musical that opened last night at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, is part biography and part concert. It's not the easiest combination, but it hardly matters. In both areas, the show is wholly enjoyable.

''Buddy'' is the musical version of the life of Buddy Holly, the 19-year-old who became a leading recording star in 1956.

His emergence was quick and brief. Holly died at the age of 22 in a plane crash, the same one that killed The Big Bopper and Richie Valens. They were touring together at the time, and their last concert, at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1959, is re-created in more than abbreviated form at the close of the second act of this show.

People were actually dancing in the aisles at a preview performance -- perhaps a first for the Mechanic. The audience also gave the performers a standing ovation, one that was well deserved. They clamored for an encore and got it.

The authors of the ''Buddy'' book describe Holly's music as rock. Perhaps it was, but there was nothing hard about it. It remains very listenable.

Among the numbers Holly did were ''That'll Be the Day,'' ''Peggy Sue,'' ''Maybe Baby,'' ''Oh, Boy!'' and ''Raining in My Heart,'' all of which sound very good, particularly when done by Joe Warren Davis as Holly.

Philip Anthony as Valens (''La Bomba'') and Brian Ruf (''Chantilly Lace'') as J. P. Richardson, who was professionally known as the Big Bopper, do most of their stuff during the show's concluding concert, and they, along with Davis, are enough to make you cheer.

Holly was born in Lubbock, Texas, where he formed his band, "Buddy Holly and the Crickets."

In no time, he was a recording star. Shortly thereafter, he married a New York secretary, someone he had only known for a few days.

His heavily rimmed glasses became his trademark, and he could hardly see without them.

Davis does a remarkable impression of Holly, who didn't dance this well and may not have even sounded as good as Davis. At the end of the show, Davis says that Holly lives on. He does, indeed, through this production.

The musical began life in London, and it has that English feel to it. It was also done in Australia and on Broadway. Now it is on tour, and make no mistake about it, this is a superior production.

At present, it needs a little oil, however. The sets are intricate and imaginative and are meant to move. They didn't move as quickly as they should at the preview, but a few more performances should take care of that.

''Buddy'' does play with history a bit. Like those contemporary performers who scream when they are supposedly doing Billie Holiday (who never screamed a lyric in her life), ''Buddy'' has a trio of ladies singing the way they did in the mid-'60s, not in the mid-'50s.

This, however, doesn't really matter. Most movies and stage shows play around with time and style, and ''Buddy'' doesn't sin that much in this area.

What it does, primarily, is entertain, even if it does violate dramatic form. When the second act begins, we are aware (if there is someone out there who doesn't already know) that Holly is going to die, along with Valens and Richardson.

There is a lot of talk about flying. Holly's wife begs him not to go on tour because she has a foreboding. Then, with all this buildup, the plot line takes a holiday as the concert begins and goes on for some time.

But again, who really cares? The musical moves very fast, and there is a lot of good music.

''Buddy'' will continue at the Mechanic through Jan. 5. You don't really have to like Holly's music to enjoy the show, but it does help.

''Buddy''

*** The life story of Buddy Holly, the rock artist who died in a plane crash at the age of 22.

CAST: Joe Warren Davis, Lauree Tara--, Brian Ruf, Philip Anthony

DIRECTOR: Rob Bettison

RUNNING TIME: 165 minutes with one intermission

TICKETS: 625-4200

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