Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Florida Studio Theatre is presenting a lively production of this jukebox musical with a reduced cast of 10 (the West End had a cast of 26), which turns out to be a perfect size for their largest auditorium, The Gompertz Theatre. Although rock of any kind is not really strongly my musical taste, there could be little doubt that the audience who shared a Sunday matinee performance with me was over the top, on their feet dancing with only the slightest encouragement. When the encouragement increased, so did the audience involvement.
The key to making this musical a pleaser is to serve the music well, and it has to start with someone who can portray Buddy Holly believably. That someone is Michael Perrie Jr., and he lists multiple credits in this musical. He is terrific, although never quite believable as 17-22 years old. Maybe the real Buddy Holly had an old soul or maybe the book doesn't help. Seth Eliser as Jerry Allison, Armando Gutierrez (who later is also Ritchie Valens), and Spiff Wiegand as Joe B. Mauldin are Buddy's band, The Crickets, in the first act and they keep the music making tight.
Ryan Halsaver plays Hipockets Duncan and all the other managers/mentors in Buddy's life with just a switch of his hat. Jimmy Lewis plays The Big Bopper and others and has a lot of fun with "Chantilly Lace," his character's one hit. As the first act moves to its conclusion, Jannie Jones as Marlena gets to stop the show cold, and I mean dead in its tracks with "Shout," a song performed at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem just before Buddy and the Crickets make their debut to a surprised audience. Buddy's act-closing set includes "Peggy Sue," "Words of Love" and "Oh, Boy!."
Monica Rodrigues has a thankless part as Buddy's wife Maria Elena Santiago and others, but it is as part of the music ensemble in the second act that she makes the best impression. Danielle Erin Rhodes plays Vi Petty and some nifty piano riffs and Troy Valjean Rucker contributes solid sax licks in the second act.
Even though the second act is heavily weighted with music, I think that Buddy Holly's later output did not match the raw excitement of his early songs. The reenactment of the concert starring Valens, The Big Bopper, and Holly before the fatal plane crash contains "Raining in My Heart," "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," and "Rave On!" before finally getting to a really exciting song, "Johnny Be Goode."
Isabel and Moriah Curley Clay have created an open set that easily becomes whatever space it needs to. Susan Angermann provides excellent costuming, really lavish. Lighting designer Ben Rawson does an excellent job. All of the technical elements are first rate.
Looks to me like Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story is a big hit for Florida Studio Theatre. Audience reaction is highly excited, with many people my age enjoying the music of their youth.
Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story runs through January 2, 2022, at Florida Studio Theatre, Gompertz Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.
Cast (in alphabetical order):