Besides seeing the 1978 feature film "The Buddy Holly Story," I hadn't seen the stage musical telling of the unlikely rock sensation's life.
I know it played with a local cast for a Broadway in Chicago produced run downtown in September 2008 at The Drury Lane Theatre at Water Tower Place in Chicago, which for some reason, I didn't see.
"Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story" is back in Chicago, this time for a two-week stop, playing until June 30 at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph. Though I'm tempted to alter my phrasing in the previous sentence and substitute the words: "a too weak stop," I believe true Buddy Holly fans can overlook the poor stretched acting and flimsy staging surrounding this young cast and concentrate on the music. The song moments come off fine for this two and half hour, one intermission performance. But the choppy story and cut-rate telling is why the overall experience suffers. And since it's a top dollar ticket price, audiences deserve something more than a burger, when steak is advertised.
Actor Andy Christopher is alternating for the title role with Kurt Jenkins. At Wednesday's press opening, it was Christoper who donned the famed black plastic frame glasses. His singing pipes are fine, but his Holly lacks an edge and is played too goofy for my liking. He's backed by actors Sam Weber as Joe B. Mauldin and Joe Cosmo Cogen as Jerry Allison to recreate the Crickets, the band that backed Holly. These latter two practically chew the scenery, with Cogen especially distracting with overacting.
In just three short years, rock legend Holly set the music world on fire and forever changed the face and sound of rock 'n' roll. The show opens explaining how Holly had to convince the music industry his talents were better suited for rock rather than country tunes.
Before his death at age 22 in a plane crash in 1959, Holly gave fans classics including "Peggy Sue," "Oh Boy," "That'll Be the Day," "Well All Right," "Not Fade Away" and many others.
The production is directed and choreographed by Norb Joerder with creative consultation by Matt Salisbury and music direction by John Banister. It's this creative force that needs to sharpen the first act, which is odd and choppy with an uneven story flow.
The rest of the cast has, what felt like, an impossible responsibility to fill multiple roles, only using limited characterization and a series of bad wigs for the following roll call: Ryan G. Dunkin as The Big Bopper, Ryan Jagru as Ritchie Valens, and with Eric Scott Anthony, Greg Bosworth, Jennifer Drew, Steve Gagliastro, Noellia Hernandez, Carrie A. Johnson, Carolyn Malfa, Sean McGibbon, Lacretta Nicole, and T. Scott Ross as an army of others.
"Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story" is not a new production and is hailed as one of the first "jukebox musicals," and seen by millions of fans in 15 countries around the world. The musical premiered in London's West End in October 1989, where it ran for 12 years and more than 5,000 performances, with a Broadway production that followed in 1990. But in this case, Buddy deserves better treatment.