TESTIMONIAL: Rod A. Lansberry, Artistic Producer
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
"Buddy was GREAT. It broke the record for highest-selling show in the summer and is second best overall. The audiences loved it and there were many repeat customers. The reoccurring response was "best thing you've ever done".
"The cast was wonderful and I would work with any of them again. The energy and commitment they gave to the show never wavered and yet they never let the show get away from them. I can't tell you enough, what a joy it was working on this show. Also, the quality of materials and support you supplied was a huge benefit."
Bennett Dunn plays Buddy
IT'S SO EASY TO FALL IN LOVE WITH 'BUDDY' (abridged)
by John Moore (Denver Post Theater Critic)
The world mourned the day the music died, and you'll lament when the final fiery note is played in the Arvada Center's The Buddy Holly Story.
…each (act) crescendos in a pulse-racing concert performance. Remarkable enough is the first-act finale, re-creating Buddy Holly and the Crickets' accidental, barrier-blasting appearance at Harlem's Apollo Theatre (they were assumed to be black). But that's nothing compared with a sweaty second act that builds, as it must, to that fated 1959 Iowa ballroom concert just before the plane crash that claimed Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.
Here, that's just when director Rod Lansberry's exceptional ensemble of 20 shifts from ordinary into extraordinary. After faithfully telling the meteoric rise of the Texas hillbilly who churned out 10 hits in 15 months, Lansberry's crew blows the Arvada Center's roof into Westminster.
Till now, Bennett Dunn has performed Holly hits like "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue" only as a trio with his rip-roaring Crickets (I swear, Luke Darnell, as Joe P. Maudlin, turns the standing bass into his personal sit 'n' spin).
(L-R) John Rochette (drums), Bennett Dunn (guitar), Luke Darnell (bass)
But by '59, Holly was flying solo, so for that final performance at Iowa's Surf Ballroom, he's fully backed by an 11-piece orchestra plus six adorable backup singer/dancers. With Valens and the Bopper assisting. We're not messing around here, folks.
And in the most sensational twist of a sensational night, this orchestra is entirely populated by actors who, to that point, have been portraying characters in the story. There's the woman who just played wife Maria Elana (Maegan McConnell) on strings; the man who played manager Norman Petty (Reece Livingston) leading an astounding five-piece horn section, including the "super-saxy" Jason Curry.
There are the exiled Crickets (Darnell and John Rochette) semi-incognito on drums and guitar. Your appreciation for these versatile performers' musicianship skyrockets.
First to set hands to clapping are Ryan G. Dunkin (as the Bopper) and the cherubic Peter Previti (Valens) with feel-good renditions of "Chantilly Lace" and "La Bamba." Dunn then takes the stage like a man possessed, fronting Holly hits like "Maybe Baby."
Rachel Turner as Mary Lou Sokoloff
By the time things climax with "Rave On" and "Johnny B. Goode," the standing, shrieking audience is thrusting pelvises and, in all likelihood, cracking hips. The energy in the room makes the climax of The Full Monty seem like a funeral scene.
Even more shocking is the fact that, of course, we know how all this will end — in the wreckage of a snowy cornfield. Yet Lansberry brings the coming plane crash home in a way that's theatrically eviscerating (with an assist from Brian Mallgrave's inventive, multimedia set).
None of it would connect so satisfyingly if Dunn hadn't already turned in an undeniably appealing portrayal of the geeky, gawky, rock visionary whose music bridged the racial divide of early rock.
Most think Holly was a nerd because of those thick, horned- rim glasses, when the opposite was true. Holly had so much self-confidence he didn't care how he looked (or sounded) to anyone. Dunn, who assumed this exhaustive role only four days before opening but has played the part many times before, is as capable handling the tricky racist and emotional undertones of the (story) as he is delivering finger-licking good guitar. And as capable as he is mimicking Holly's guttural growl, pins don't even dare to drop when he's singing ballads like "True Love Ways."
(L-R) Ryan G. Dunkin (Bopper), Bennett Dunn and Peter Previti (Ritchie)
But Buddy is much more than a one-man show. Dunn and his Crickets are a trio I'd happily stand in line at Bender's to see play. Nearly stealing the show are magnetic Apollo singers Dana Dawson and Tanja Lynne Lee. Jeremy Sortore (as Jack Daw) and his Snowbirds find pure harmonic convergence on "Why Do Fools." And though this isn't the most dance-intensive show, the aerodynamic team of Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck and Stephen Bertles are like Rogers and Astaire on jet packs.
This summer, it's so easy to fall in love (with Buddy).
Arvada Center cast of Buddy
Photos: P. Switzer