'Buddy Holly' show brings performer back to life

Annapolis Summer Garden revives influential rocker with last show of season

August 14, 2010|By Mary Johnson, Special to The Baltimore Sun

A vibrant, rocking Buddy Holly returns to the stage in Annapolis Summer Garden's season-closing performance of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story."

Alan Janes' and Rob Bettinson's "Buddy" tells the story of a young Texan who changed popular music forever.

Buddy Holly's mix of 1950s country, rockabilly and rhythm & blues has influenced such pop legends as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. One of the first to write, produce and perform his own songs, Holly established his influence during a brief year career that ended at age 22 in a plane crash, a tragedy commemorated in Don McLean's "American Pie" anthem.

In their 1989 show, Janes and Bettinson created a jukebox musical tracing Holly's brief career from its start in Lubbock, Texas, in 1956.

The show begins with Buddy and the Crickets — bass player Joe Mauldin and drummer Jerry Allison — performing on a Texas country music station and moves to Norman Petty's recording studio in New Mexico, where they signed a contract. The first act ends with the debut performance of Buddy Holly and the Crickets at the Apollo, where they became the first white group to play at Harlem's famous theater.

Act 2 opens in a New York City recording studio after Holly and the Crickets have achieved success, and where Holly meets receptionist Maria Elena Santiago, his future wife. After a breakup with the Crickets, Holly becomes a headliner touring the Midwest by bus. The show ends with Holly's final concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 2, 1959. The show's music ends abruptly, suggesting "the day the music died" when Holly and the show's other performers, " Big Bopper" J.P. Richardson and Ritchie Valens, boarded a plane that crashed in a snowy cornfield.

ASGT's outdoor venue is ideal for this show, where the stage holds a simple set on two vertical levels designed by Bob Rudd.

Director Melissa Huston has assembled a talented cast to take the audience back to the emergence of the rock era, when Holly challenged promoters and listeners to accept his unique sound. In this 1950s setting, Huston paces the action with the music to reveal personal identities.

All of the action is choreographed in the performance of 28 songs, superlatively delivered with the assistance of music director Ken Kimble, who helped create this fabulous concert of authentic 1950s sounds.

This "theater under the stars" production works mainly because of 20-year-old Daniel Jackson, who bursts on the stage to become Buddy Holly. Tall, lean and enormously energetic, his hair cut to resemble Holly's and wearing black-rimmed glasses, Jackson projects a young musical crusader's innocence and passionate resolve. Most important, Jackson sounds like Holly, and convinces us by the third number that Holly is back onstage. Jackson's guitar playing is skilled enough to enhance the illusion that grows more intense as the show progresses.

Supporting players display impressive talents, starting with Crickets bassist Joe Mauldin, played by 17-year-old Joe Thibodeau, who learned to play well enough to seem a seasoned pro, confidently spinning his upright bass on its stand, and drummer Jerry Allison, played by 21-year-old Alex Osterhoudt, who displays strong rhythmic skills along with a previously untapped acting ability.

Other noteworthy performers include John Verdi as DJ Hipockets Duncan, who initially advises Holly to stick with country songs because the public wasn't ready for rock. At the end of the show, it's Duncan who reports the plane crash to his radio listeners. Actor Travis Hurley plays recording studio owner Norman Petty, who takes a chance and signs Holly and the Crickets. Emily Sergo plays Norman Petty's wife, Vi, stealing several scenes as the on-hand studio pianist and celeste player.

Fresh from playing Olive in ASGT's "Spelling Bee," Christina Carlucci delivers a riveting performance as Maria Elena Santiago, the music publisher's receptionist whom Holly instantly falls in love with and soon marries. Carlucci's Maria is an authentic passionate presence to match Jackson's Holly.

In his second ASGT production this season, Tobias Young displays his versatility as a singer, first performing at the Apollo and later at the Clear Lake concert. Kelston Thomas, a recent graduate of Severna Park High School, plays a dynamic Ritchie Valens, delivering a lively "La Bamba" complete with gyrations. In his ASGT debut, Sam Huston plays J.P. Richardson singing "Chantilly Lace" as the Big Bopper. Additional kudos are due Travis Hurley, who plays Jack Daw, and the lovely trio of Snowbirds who bring their own sweet harmony to the concert scene.

'Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story'

8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays through Sept. 5 at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St., Annapolis.

Tickets may be ordered in advance at summergarden.com or 410-268-9212.

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