“Buddy was the hit of our summer. The audience just ate it up. Rave On... Michigan and beyond”
— Brendan Ragotzy, Producer, The Barn Theatre, Augusta, Michigan
'Oh, Boy!' The Barn’s production of Buddy is a hit
“I wasn’t alive when Buddy Holly was making music, but the gentleman sitting beside me in the Barn Theatre was. By intermission of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, he declared the production “the best show they’ve done here.” Judging by the tapping toes, swaying souls and standing ovations, I would say he wasn’t alone in his assessment.
“Buddy is not a traditional musical, but a hybrid of a rock concert and a documentary. Written by Alan Janes, the show features more than 20 classic rock hits by Buddy Holly and others. It premiered in London’s West End in 1989 and has played all over the world. It focuses on the last three years of Buddy Holly’s life, during which he skyrocketed to rock ‘n’ roll fame before a plane crash claimed his life and the lives of fellow rock stars Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Only 22 years old when he died, Buddy Holly blazed a trail that would influence rock musicians for generations to come.
“Director Brendan Ragotzy captures the story well. Periodically, lights rise, fall and flash over his beautifully positioned cast while disc jockeys narrate Buddy’s climb.… (Scenic designer Samantha Snow’s set) literally rotates like an LP... (Music Director) Matt Shabala and (drummer) Dave Van Haren aren’t the only musicians onstage. Whether it’s Buddy Holly and the Crickets playing the classic rock lineup of two guitars, a bass, and the drums, or members of the ensemble accompanying on trumpet, violin or banjo, these actors are in rock star mode. And no one shines brighter than guest star Andy Christopher who plays Buddy Holly.
“There isn’t a proper superlative for what Christopher does with the role of Buddy. He sings, he dances, he plays the electric guitar behind his head, all while retaining a geeky charm. He dominates during rock numbers like 'That’ll Be The Day' and mesmerizes during acoustic ballads like 'True Love Ways'. His deadeye stare over the retro microphone is iconic, while his unconstrained desire to kick and jump emphasizes the power the music has over him.
“Wresting the spotlight from Buddy isn’t easy, but guest star Emily Agy manages it as Apollo emcee Marlena. Her performance of 'Shout' is not just powerful, it’s downright sassy. Jamey Grisham earns his slice of the spotlight as Ritchie Valens, delivering a rocking rendition of 'La Bamba'. Charlie King’s Big Bopper is bigger than life, dropping the famous “Hellooo, baaaby!” into the microphone before launching into an energized version of 'Chantilly Lace'.
“The show concludes with the “Winter Dance Party” at Clear Lake, Iowa – Buddy’s final performance. The scene has an interactive feel, with the musical acts addressing the Barn audience as “Clear Lake.” Buddy plays a whole set, including a dynamite collaboration with the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens… At one point, the action freezes while a grieving deejay reports the deadly crash. A hush falls, before the action resumes, the music defying fate. Even when the house lights rise, the music continues, as the cast delivers one more encore.
“The Barn’s production of Buddy is a joyful show, memorializing the star for those who grew up with his music and introducing him to those who did not. Either way, everyone goes home humming, “Oh, Boy!”
- Nicole L.V. Mullis, Battle Creek Enquirer
Andy Christopher (Buddy) and Andrea Arvanigian (Maria Elena) at the Barn Theatre (2017)
Well all right! Buddy Holly rocks and bops at The Barn (abridged)
“...by the end of the show, Wednesday’s audience was on its feet clapping along and dancing at their seats… For a couple of hours, the rock legend lives again...
“Guest star Andy Christopher is extraordinary. He really becomes Buddy Holly… Director Brendan Ragotzy surrounds Christopher’s talent with stellar support including musician/actors to portray Holly’s bandmates (Quinn Moran and Alex Crossland) and Barn regulars fielding rock legend roles such as J.P. Richardson (Charlie King) and Ritchie Valens (Jamey Grisham). Scenic designer Samantha Snow creates a basic all-purpose music-themed set with a revolving centerpiece that allows fluid scene changes. The orchestra emerges from its usual niche under the stage to perch music director Matt Shabala and drummer Dave Van Haren above the sound booths of the set. By the final scene, eight musicians, including bass, pianos, trumpet, and guitars are lined up across the back of the stage and gyrating, costumed backup singers are filling every inch.
“Written by Alan Janes, the 1989 musical is designed to recreate the feeling of live performances, which works particularly well on the Barn’s traditional proscenium stage with its red velvet curtain. The audience becomes part of the show right from the beginning by following the prompt of the “applause” sign at a Texas radio station. But audience response really kicks into gear when the show moves to Harlem’s all-black Apollo Theatre where guest artist Emily Agy leads a rollicking performance of 'Shout'...
“Most people know how this story ends – Buddy Holly, J. P. Richardson and Ritchie Valens were killed in plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959. That knowledge makes the final performance at Clear Lake, Iowa, particularly poignant. Yet it doesn’t dim the enthusiasm of the final scene. Charlie King is dynamite as “Big Bopper” J. P. Richardson with his deep “Hello Baby” opening to 'Chantilly Lace'. Jamey Grisham leads a sparkling rendition of Ritchie Valens’ hit 'La Bamba'. The three of them – Holly, Richardson and Valens – exude energy and joy for life, duck-walking together across the stage. The music is so good and so much fun you just never want it to end. The fateful finale is handled perfectly: the music may stop, but it never dies.”
- Sue Merrell, Encore Michigan
Andy Christopher (R) and bandmates Quinn Moran (L) (Joe B. Mauldin) and Alex Crossland (Jerry Allison)
‘Buddy’ is a stellar, thrilling portal to the past (abridged)
“Nearly 60 years after Buddy Holly’s tragic plane crash death Don McLean proclaimed “the day the music died” in his pervasive ’70s hit 'American Pie', The Barn Theatre has magnificently brought both Holly and his music back to life in Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story.
“Written by Brit Alan Janes, Buddy is credited as being the original jukebox musical, spurring a generation of musicals capitalizing on beloved popular music of days gone by, such as Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, and Million Dollar Quartet.
“…Buddy works especially well at The Barn. Its success rests squarely on the shoulders of the actor who plays Buddy Holly and carries the show, and Andy Christopher is as good as it gets. He’s played the role since 2010 in the national tour as well as regional productions all over the country, and his mastery shows.
“This native Texan — from Lubbock, no less, like Holly himself — positively channels the legend. He embodies his nerdy fresh-faced look with trademark horn-rimmed glasses, his exuberant defiance, his self-deprecating yet confident swagger and charm, as well as his West Texas accent, trademark stuttering vocals, falsetto, and percussive guitar playing with jaw-dropping authenticity. The Fender Stratocaster he plays with gusto is an extension of his body, and his looks, acting, singing, and playing are a dead ringer for the man who died tragically in 1959.
“And equally remarkable is how beautifully the talented resident Barn company support Christopher’s stellar virtuoso performance and match his level of excellence by creating believable characters. Brendan Ragotzy, an expert director of rock musicals, hits it out of the park with this cast, all fantastic musicians in their own right, many who also play instruments on stage.
“Technical elements here are interesting but not distracting, and also work to keep the music the main star of the show. Musical Director Matt Shabala and much of his killer band are on stage for much of the show; and a huge turntable with giant sheet music spins center stage, aiding transitions between scenes.
“The show’s narrative traverses Holly’s three-year recording career, from a radio station in Lubbock, Texas, to Nashville to New Mexico to New York City, and ends with a blowout barn burner of a show, recreating the last time he, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens ever played, in the Winter Dance Party Tour, the night before their plane went down. Charlie King and Jamey Grisham straight up channel the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens respectively, both physically and in terms of exuberant energy and skillful musical performance...
“It’s terrific, practically timeless music made even better performed live by stellar musicians. This is the reason to see the show. They rock so hard and so well, the Barn audience is transported back in time, and Baby Boomer ticket holders become screaming, hip-shaking teenagers again, if only for a Wednesday night in Augusta, Michigan, transformed by a powerfully evocative bunch of actor musicians who make it feel like 1959.”
- Marin Heinritz, REVUE
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