The rock-n-roll A-Train stopped in Raleigh on Tuesday night, bringing a load of talented musicians and actors, along with a ton of great 1950’s music. The event? Opening night for the North Carolina Theatre‘s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. And boy! Did the players shine!
Most of us know that Buddy Holly was a pioneer of rock and roll and that he was at the height of his career when a plane crash cut his life short at age 22. That crash also took the lives of two other 1950s music luminaries: The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. That was, as the song ” American Pie” tells us, “The Day the Music Died.”
When the curtains open, we see a gorgeous set; and it is decorated with the logos of radio call letters and giant 45 rpm records bearing the names of some of Holly’s hits. Buddy Holly and The Crickets hale from Lubbock, TX. We first see them there, playing live on a 1956 radio show — playing country music. Then we see them pull an on-the-air “switcheroo” and play rock and roll — step #1 in Buddy’s rise to fame.
The play documents major milestones in the ensuing three years that constitute his brief career. As a result of the band’s switcheroo, DJ/manager Hipockets Duncan (played by Matt Allen) tears up the band’s radio contract; however, he produces a Nashville recording contract. The hitch: it is a contract for recording country music, not rock and roll. But Buddy is determined to play “my music, my way,” and he goes on to create his signature sound.
Matt Allen plays the role of Hipockets to a T, and he reappears to portray the flamboyant emcee at the concert that was to become Holly’s final performance in Clear Lake, Iowa.
A crucial stop in The Crickets’ ascent: Norvajak Studios in Clovis, NM, where Norm and Vi Petty help them record demos to take to New York. Scott Wakefield and Angela C. Howell complement each other nicely as the Pettys. Here we witness the creative process of several of Buddy Holly songs and the crucial re-naming of one very famous song.
In addition to Buddy Holly (played by James Barry), The Crickets are comprised of Jerry Allison (played by Zach Crossman), Joe B. Maudlin (played by Sam Sherwood), and (eventually) a “fourth Cricket” (played by Matthew J. Riordan).
Besides Holly’s band-mates, we also meet the lovely Marie Elena (played by Belinda Allen), who became his wife just a few months before his death. We meet her on the very day that Buddy meets her, and we are there when they decide to marry.
As audience, we find ourselves “playing the part of audience” in multiple venues. In the radio studio in Lubbock, signs prompt us to “Silence” and “Applause.”
At one point, we are transported to seats in The Apollo Theatre in Harlem, where the band made history as the first white band to play there. Here we are treated to the talents of Yolanda W. Rabin and Troy Valjean Rucker, who play “Apollo Performers.” In addition to our “Apollo audience experience,” we also get a glimpse backstage at these characters’ interaction with some “white boys.”
The songs, the dance, and the characters are all a total delight. (With a cast as strong as this, one generally does not notice stand-out performances; but we feel compelled to mention that Yolanda Rabun’s 100-watt smile lights up the theater whenever she is on stage.)
And, of course, we are there in Clear Water, where the band is joined by a plethora of other musicians including Ritchie Valens (Xavier Cano) and The Big Bopper (Brent Beman). And, yes, we also get to see and hear them perform “La Bamba” and “Chantilly Lace.”
All of these actors are accomplished musicians; or, perhaps, we should say: All of these musicians are skilled actors. Whichever! The show is about the music, and they totally nail the songs every time.
We kept asking ourselves: Is this a play, or a rock-and-roll concert? Thankfully, it is both!
So … are you ready to hear (and sing along with) “Peggy Sue,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Not Fade Away,” “Everyday,” and many more? Are you ready to sand up and dance? If so, bop on over to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium for a fun-filled musical-theater experience.
P.S. As with all concerts, don’t leave before the encore!
SECOND OPINION: July 22nd Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Reviews-North-Carolina-Theatres-BUDDY-THE-BUDDY-HOLLY-STORY-20150722 and July 22nd “first-look” video by BroadwayWorld TV: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-First-Look-at-Highlights-of-North-Carolina-Theatres-BUDDY-THE-BUDDY-HOLLY-STORY-20150722; July 21st Raleigh, NC ArtsNow interview with Yolanda Rabun, conducted by Alexandrea Thomsen: http://artsnownc.com/2015/07/21/watch-yolanda-rabun-talks-nc-theatres-buddy-the-buddy-holly-story/; July 20th Raleigh, NC WNCN interview with James Barry, conducted by Valonda Calloway and Alex Butler for “My Carolina Today”: http://wncn.com/2015/07/20/buddy-the-buddy-holly-story/; July 19th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article27480400.html; July 17th Raleigh, NC WRAL interview with James Barry, conducted by Bill Leslie: http://www.wral.com/wral-tv/video/14779475/; and July 15th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/buddy/Event?oid=4496921. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the July 20th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/07/thatll-be-the-day-the-north-carolina-theatres-production-of-buddy-opens-on-july-21st/.)
The North Carolina Theatre presents BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY at 7:30 p.m. July 21-24 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. July 25 and 26 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/show-season/201415-season.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/803583.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949; firstname.lastname@example.org; or http://www.nctheatre.com/page/groups.
SHOW: http://www.nctheatre.com/shows/the-buddy-holly-story and https://www.facebook.com/events/382216781964250/.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
2014-15 SEASON: http://www.nctheatre.com/2015-shows.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, July 25th, performance.
Buddy Holly (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter, nee Charles Hardin Holley, 1936-59): http://rockhall.com/inductees/buddy-holly/ (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. bio), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=11875 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddy_Holly (Wikipedia).
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (1989 West End and 1990 Broadway musical): http://www.buddythemusical.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=2280 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddy_%E2%80%93_The_Buddy_Holly_Story (Wikipedia).
Alan Janes (book): http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=3944 (Internet Broadway Database).
DJ Salisbury (NCT guest director and choreographer): http://www.djsalisbury.com/index.html (official website).
EDITOR’S NOTE: Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.