Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Buddy follows the brief career of Buddy Holly, from his rise to popularity in Lubbock, Texas, to his untimely and premature death. Written by Alan Janes, the musical premiered in London in 1989 and on Broadway in 1990. Unlike some of the newer bio-musicals, Buddy is short on story or character development. Through narration supplied by various characters (all played by the same actor), along with a few brief scenes, the general outline of Holly's performing career and life are shared. However, the show is primarily a concert of his music and none of the songs are used to propel the story along. The current version of the show contains even less book material than the original production, and it drags a bit toward the end of both acts as a result.
Despite Holly's short career, he had a number of hits, including "Peggy Sue," "Everyday," and "That'll Be The Day." In addition to songs Holly performed, selections from the period performed by other characters, including "Shout," "Chantilly Lace," and "La Bamba," make the score a familiar one to most theatergoers. Many of the songs are performed as part of two staged concerts, one at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem (Buddy Holly and The Crickets were the first white group to the play the venue) and Holly's final performance in Iowa, just before the fatal plane crash that also took the lives of The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.
Marcia Milgrom Dodge has become a favorite at Cincinnati Playhouse for staging musicals, and she is one of the country's top regional directors. She has staged numerous productions of Buddy around the country, and her direction and choreography are fluid, active and theatrical. Her use of fun audience participation ramps up the overall enjoyment of the piece as well.
Like their director, most of the seven cast members have performed their roles previously in other productions of Buddy. Andy Christopher, who also serves as the music director for the production, embodies Holly with the requisite spunk and determination befitting the character, and demonstrates the vocal dexterity to match Buddy's famous singing voice. Jayson Elliott portrays radio disc jockey Hipockets Duncan and other characters, supplying wry narration. He garners laughs and supplies lots of energy as The Big Bopper. Joe Cosmo Cogen is Crickets' member Jerry Allison and provides great musicianship on drums throughout the show. Spiff Wiegand plays Crickets' member Joe B. Maudlin and shows off every conceivable way of playing the upright bass, as well as some solid trumpet playing. Ryan Jagru impresses with several guitar solos, and portrays Ritchie Valens toward the end of the show. As Holly's wife and several other characters, Shayna Nicole Small displays great singing and versatility in characterizations. Byron St. Cyr plays a mean saxophone and likewise is praiseworthy playing a variety of differing characters. All of the performers are strong vocalists and very talented instrumentalists.
The set design by Christian Boy features a floor patterned with guitar chord charts, some sleek 1950s style structures which are used effectively in a variety of ways, and some smaller modular pieces for defining the setting, such as a recording booth, radio station, or living room. The costumes by Tracy Christensen are fun, period appropriate, and a match to the styles of the real-life characters. Rob Denton's lighting includes several stark spots on an otherwise dark stage and some beautiful saturation of purples and blues during performance numbers.
Buddy isn't a thought-provoking or story-driven musical, but it is very entertaining, especially for theatergoers with a strong affection for Holly's music. The sure-handed and well-oiled performances and direction make this a fun night out, and a nostalgic emotional ride.
Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story runs through February 16, 2020, at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, 962 Mt Adams Circle, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-421-3888 or visit www.cincyplay.com.