There are few shows that are as infectious then Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, which chronicles the last three years in the life of this legendary rock star whose unique sound skyrocketed the singer to chart topping success. With some of the most recognizable songs in the American rock songbook, including "Peggy Sue", "Oh Boy", "That"ll Be The Day" and "Everyday", and with a brand new sound top notch system installed at the Drury Lane Oakbrook by sound designer Garth Helm, it is next to impossible not to fall in love with a legend all over again.
Buddy follows the life of the Texan guitarist from his beginnings with Buddy Holly & the Crickets in Lubbock to the launching of his solo career. It is told in two acts with a series of vignettes as well as concert style rendition of his songs, featuring over twenty of them. The show concludes with the final Winter Dance Party Tour on February 2, 1959 at the Surf Ballroom in Clearlake, Iowa. After midnight Buddy breaks his promise to his pregnant wife not to fly as he and two head-liners board a small plane and fly off into a blizzard only to crash an hour later into a ploughed field. The accident killed Buddy, the Big Bopper and 17 year old Ritchie Valens in a tragedy that snatched away three of the most dynamic talents the world had known in what is called, "the day the music died."
Buddy, which is one of the first "jukebox" musicals, debuted in 1989 in London and ran for an astounding six years. Though never making it to Broadway, the show has still played to more than 20 million people worldwide, including a hit run at the Shubert Theatre in Chicago in the early 90's.
Of the numerous productions of the show I have seen, including two in Chicago and one in Toronto, no one has quite captured the innate talent and charisma then the current Justin Berkobien's interpretation of Holly. As an accomplished musician himself, Berkobien sings, acts and translates each and every song with such integrity that the audience never for a moment questions why this artist became a superstar in such a sort amount of time. Berkobien walks that fine line of not copying Holly, but conveying the spirit of Buddy's voice while adding his own personality to this phenomenal portrayal.
The supporting cast is equally as enthralling. Cody Siragusa (Joe B. Mauldin) on bass and Jim Barclay (Jerry Allison) on percussion, round out the Crickets, with whom Holly found his initial fame. Tempe Thomas has some lovely moments as Buddy's wife, Maria, who some at the time saw as divisive but no doubt loved Buddy, and who also is said to have foreshadowed his death. As an added bit of realism, all of the actors play their own instruments in this production, including the multi-talented Michael Mahler on guitar and banjo while Bernie Yvon, who was absolutely hilarious in Marriott's recent production of "The Producers" wraps his talented lips around the alto sax.
Though the second act of the show is not as well crafted as the first, it does contain the final concert including Casey Campbell as the Big Bopper singing his signature "Chantilly Lace" and Tony Sancho ‘s Ritchie Valens bringing the house down with "La Bamba".
Director/Choreographer Tammy Mader has a tight, sure footed grasp on the action of the piece. She lets the material work its magic and doesn't get in the way of letting the music tell the story.
As Drury Lane Oakbrook is sure to discover, the July 27th closing date will not be long enough to satisfy the audience that will come back and see this show more than once. That is the secret to this show's success. The longer it runs and word of mouth get around, the bigger a hit it becomes. No one deserves this homage more then Buddy Holly himself who is surely looking down at Berkobien's performance smiling.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story plays through July 27, 2008 at the Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. For show times and tickets, please visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com or call the box office at (630) 530-0111
Photo: Justin Berkobien as Buddy Holly