The Theatre Alliance cast rocks the stage in Buddy (2016)Review: Rousing ‘Buddy’ at Theatre Alliance tours early rock ‘n’ roll
“If you are even slightly a fan of late-1950s rock ’n’ roll — especially from the brief but brilliant career of Buddy Holly — Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance and director Jamie Lawson have a show for you.
“Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story
opened Friday night to a full house on Northwest Boulevard. The theater rocked and rolled from beginning to end, with Holly’s infectious music and some bonus tracks as well.
“The story studies Holly’s early struggles as producers attempt to make him a country music star. In 1957, a psychiatrist’s comment is typical: “Rock ’n’ roll is a communicable disease.”
“But Holly (Gray Smith) knows what he wants, and it’s not twangy. It’s an electric guitar, drums and bass (added by his musician friends, the Crickets, played by Steve Robinson and John C. Wilson).
“Radio guru Hipockets Duncan (Timothy Swift, who also has a marvelous turn as the Big Bopper) can’t sell his sponsors on a rock Holly, but he does get him his first recording contract.
“From there, Buddy
traces the ups and downs as Holly becomes a rock ’n’ roll star, finds a wife, breaks with the Crickets and comes to a tragic end, all in a remarkable 18 months.
“The bittersweet final moment is completely overwhelmed, though, by the recreated final concert and the episodes that lead up to it.
“Smith shows Holly’s youthful spirit, battling to create the music he hears in his head. Once he puts on the trademark black-rimmed glasses, his mannerisms and even guitar-strumming style are all Holly.
“Smith gets excellent support from Robinson and Wilson as the original Crickets, and later from Daniel Buken as guitarist Tommy, the ‘fourth Cricket’.
“As Holly builds his career, some time is spent in the studio, where the creative challenges and inspirations of that environment are nicely represented.
“Along the way, the Texas boys wind up at the famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem, in a scene which opens with a rousing ‘Shout’ delivered by Charee Cuthrell and Jayson Crawford. The four white ducks out of water nevertheless win over the Harlem audience.
“The singing throughout the production is solid, with special note of Omar Sosa (as Ritchie Valens, he has a lively ‘La Bamba’ moment), and the trio of ladies who play multiple roles — Rebecca Barnhardt, Amanda Decker and Selin Yalcinkaya. Era choreography, wigs and costumes serve the production well.
“Music director Tommy Jackson has also assembled a dependable band that drives the beat from top to bottom. Along with the actors, they fire on all cylinders in the concert that shows what entertainers were lost in that 1959 plane accident. If you go, and your toes aren’t tapping along with those final songs, check your pulse.”
— Bill Cissna, Winston-Salem Journal
Photos courtesy of Dancing Lemur Photography
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