Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story – Review

Jeremy Holmes, Scott Carmichael, Zachary Stevenson in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story uses vignettes of significant moments in Holly’s short musical career to demonstrate why his passing is even more tragic than we realize.  The show begins with Buddy defying his manager’s orders to only play country music in order to secure a recording contract. It is in these scenes that we see him as charming, obviously talented and extremely driven. It is also in these scenes that we see him as a stubborn and strong-willed nineteen year old boy. And then it hits you, he was only nineteen when his journey to bring his style of music to the masses was finally being done his way. Of course, this was not accomplished easily and was met some hiccups along the way.

Buddy Holly is played by Zachary Stevenson who is probably the cutest thing I have seen in a long time. It is obvious to anyone watching the show to understand why Stevenson was chosen for this role. Not only is he impressive vocally, but he also manages to bring this geeky and lovable quality to his performance that makes you smile from ear to ear when he is on stage. One of my favourite scenes involved The Crickets’ performance at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The Apollo MC is originally confused, amused and also slightly annoyed to find out that Buddy Holly and the Crickets are white, but like everyone else, eventually succumbs to their unquestionable talent. He tells Holly to give him “some skin” and Stevenson’s look of confusion and eventual social gaffe is beyond hilarious to witness.

The eventual demise of Holly’s collaboration with the Crickets leads him to solo success and one of the headlining acts on the Winter Dance Party tour. Sadly, the audience knows too well what is about to transpire and after Holly’s phone conversation with his wife; we begin to prepare for the sad event. However, The Buddy Holly Story is not about the death of Buddy Holly it is about the music of Buddy Holly and his significant, albeit short-lived, contribution to Rock ‘n’ Roll. It is here that the audience is treated to the Winter Dance Party performances of Buddy Holly as well as his fellow tour mates (and fellow plane crash victims) Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson.  It should be mentioned that Michael Antonakas (“Ritchie Valens”) and the Kieran Martin Murphy (“Big Bopper”) display equal charm and charisma to that of Zachery Stevenson when performing their character’s hit songs “La Bamba” and “Chantilly Lace”.  Absolutely perfect.

The Buddy Holly Story is of course about Buddy Holly’s musical career but I also felt it was more about the creation of music that has remained timeless, important and influential because of the human character of the individuals who created such music. What I loved most about this musical, other than the fantastic songs and the talent of the entire cast, was the fact that in the end it placed equal emphasis on the individuals who perished on that fateful February night in 1959; highlighting that innovative performers such as Holly, Valens, and Richardson will be forever remembered by the music industry because of their immeasurable talent, not their tragic passing.

This show was impossible to not enjoy and this was evidenced by the amount of audience members getting up during the last musical set to sing and dance in the aisles. If I had time, I would see it again just to experience the joy and excitement this show managed to create within its audience.  LOVED IT.