Forget about the day the music died. This show celebrates when Buddy Holly made rock ’n’ roll live.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, the jukebox musical that opened a nine-performance run at Casa Mañana on Saturday, is a jukin’ and jivin’ romp in the white-hot glow of the astonishing, three-year recording career of Lubbock’s most famous ambassador of America’s greatest musical form.
This musical, written by Alan Janes, touches on some of the most well-documented aspects of Holly’s too-brief life — his complicated relationship with his band, the Crickets; his self-assurance and stubbornness in the recording studio; and his near-instant marriage to Maria Elena Santiago. But the music is what matters most here.
The horn-rimmed glasses in this production are worn by native Texan Andy Christopher, who replaced the actor originally cast in the title role just a few weeks ago. But the lanky singer, who looks more than a little like the real deal, certainly does not sound like Plan B. While not an exact copy, he certainly captures the essence of Holly’s distinctive sound on nearly all of his numbers.
And few hits are left unturned in the show’s nicely rendered set list. Rave On, Everyday, True Love Ways, Oh Boy!, Not Fade Away and Peggy Sue are all featured, in addition to several others by Holly and a few by other hit-makers of his era (interestingly, the show closes with Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode). All the tunes offered are either performed live or played back in recordings by the actor-singer-musicians of the large cast.
There are two moments in particular that stand out: the birth of the song Peggy Sue and, of course, Holly’s final performance in Clear Lake, Iowa. The former, a scene featuring Holly butting heads with producer Norman Petty (Paul T. Taylor), serves as a showcase for what Holly was all about as an artist — talented, confident and unyielding. The latter is a raucous re-creation of highlights of his final show, before the 22-year-old Holly boarded that fateful flight. It is so full of energy and joy that it keeps your mind away from what awaits.
Both scenes reflect the best aspects of Casey Hushion’s direction and the high-quality musicianship of the performers. But, except for Christopher, a lot of the acting come across as a bit hammy. It is as if this show were prepared for a larger theater. Almost all hands would benefit from pulling it down a notch.
But, ultimately, the story and the acting do not matter much at all. This show is a tribute concert. And, since the music is so classic and well-performed overall (only Words of Love really misses its mark), that is enough.
There may come a time when we will tire of these Holly treasures. But as John Wayne said when he unwittingly inspired Holly to write the lyric, “That’ll be the day.”
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story
▪ Through Sunday
▪ Casa Manana, 3101 W. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth
▪ 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
▪ 817-332-2272; www.casamanana.org