Buddy Holly Story at the Majestic: Songs You’ll Love
In its 25th Year, the Majestic Brings Back Popular Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story for a Sixth Run
In 1997, the Majestic Theater staged Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story as their opening debut show. Twenty-five years and six productions of the show later, Danny Eaton’s crew has brought back the one that brought ’em with singing, dancing, harmonies, and most importantly, those catchy songs that audience members loved. The Buddy Holly Story is more of a concert than a play, a true musical but one with mini-concerts tucked inside the storyline. Fun!
There were a lot of songs–so many–and musical director Mitch Chakour kept busy with so much to keep track of, though I’m sure he has gotten familiar with this popular musical that Eaton describes as an audience favorite. All the players had good musical chops, so there was no acting to learn how to play, thankfully. Good job with casting.
But it takes a long time to present so many numbers in three completely different musical settings, and the running time for the first half was a solid 90 minutes. It wrapped after a 75-minute second act, three hours total. Maybe it’s the Interwebs, but I am not used to such duration. Still, nobody complained that there was too much music!
As producing director Danny Eaton stood in the lobby after The Buddy Holly Story shows, he looked happy and serene. One man commented how glad he was that this venerable theater company has been thriving since 1997 and is still here. It’s great for our Valley to have the Majestic and its shows; back in 1997, nobody knew it would last this long.
Tonight’s debut of this show, which runs through March 28 in West Springfield, has a cavalcade of characters, some with funny names like Hipockets Duncan, the Big Bopper, and Snowbird.
As the show opens, Buddy (Dan Whelton) is playing music in front of a DJ perched high above him on stage.
We’ve returned to a glorious sepia-toned era in 1957, when putting on a rock and roll album was tantamount to heresy. No, we play country music on our station, KDAV, Lubbock, Texas, not that new crap. No way.
So when we hear Buddy launch into a maudlin, typical Texas country tune, as the radio DJ up above nods appreciatively, and then with a grin, he switches it up to ‘Rip it Up’ defiantly strutting and singing, we cheer him on. Damn it, we all know that the old radio DJ up in his booth will see that our star Buddy is the real deal eventually, and so is this new-fangled rock and roll.
Whelton does a great job with all of the music, deftly knocking out Holly numbers with ease. His two Crickets (Josh Karam and Jacob Nichols) kept grinning and playing, and both are talented both multifaceted musicians.
The number of players on the small stage was impressive; again, this was more of a concert by a talented group of musicians with some acting lines. It was all about the music (not only Holly’s) and featured many aspects of how certain people received Buddy Holly’s music. Alan James dives right in, setting up an interesting scene at the Apollo Theater where black actors remark about how they felt when the band they hired turned out to be four white guys. Not good! I enjoyed Marlena Madison’s (Shannon Lamb) fierce mocking of what she thought the Harlem audience would do when they found out.
I do question why we needed to have so long a sojourn with the Apollo Theater, with so many songs that weren’t related to or written by Holly, and only made sense when we, the audience pretending to be the Apollo Theater audience, applauded the music, evidently meaning that Holly’s first show in New York in 1957 was received well by a black audience, just like with his white fans. In truth, the fans back then liked that he mostly played blues at the Apollo.
A few standouts in the big cast: Caleb Koval as Ritchie Valens captured the personality I associate with the young star, who died at just 17 with the Big Bopper and Holly in the airplane crash in 1959. He used his body language to convey the sultry sexuality the singer was famous for, complete with the saucy top curl of his hair. Shaun O’Keefe’s portrayal of the Big Bopper and a singer for the Hayriders was spirited and energizing. He had great fun.
Saxophonist Cliff Schofer had the crowd in his hand with his excellent sax solos wearing that blue jacket and later when he piped in a few exquisitely low vocal bass notes. Watching the wonderful Snowbirds dancing with their coordinated gloved hand gestures was a hoot. Brad Shepard looked quite at home in front of the mic, playing the MC at the Surf Ballroom, where the triumphant final mini-concert took place the night of that fateful plane crash when the three stars perished.
For any fan of Buddy Holly’s music, this show was a treat, the players really gave it their all, and the routines were fun and enjoyable to watch. A great evening of musical theater at the same familiar place, the Majestic.
The Buddy Holly Story, at the Majestic Theater West Springfield. Playing through May 28, 2023. Tickets