‘The Buddy Holly Story’ review: A ’50s legend brought back to life
It’s a blast from the past. “Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is a rollicking celebration of the iconic singer, who consistently fought the system to make music his way.
The show, one of the earliest jukebox musicals, is mostly a late-’50s hit parade with the concert interrupted every so often to detail Holly’s meteoric rise and tragic end. Watching Michael Perrie Jr. in the title role is as close as many of us will ever come to seeing the legend live, no surprise since he’s been performing the show off and on since 2016. Rarely offstage, Perrie is perpetual motion from the moment he launches into the early hit “That’ll Be the Day.”
Director-choreographer Keith Andrews has assembled quite the backup bunch, starting with the other two members of Holly’s band — drummer Jerry Allison (Armando Gutierrez) and Joe Maudlin (Sam Sherwood), the bass player whose aerobic routine on the massive instrument brings down the house. (Note the actors in this show are the band, with pretty much everyone playing something.)
Other notable performances include Jayson Elliott as J.P. Richardson Jr., known as the Big Bopper, Diego Guevara as the hip-shaking Richie Valens and Eric Scott Anthony as Norman Petty, the producer whose tough love helped Holly reach the top. Costumer Dustin Cross does everyone up in ’50s finery — lots of crinolines and cardigans — and Jordan Janoda’s colorful set evokes the era.
The biographical part of the show highlights major Holly moments, starting in a Lubbock, Texas, roller rink (a little odd, though, that the band members outnumbered the skaters), on to a not-so-successful stint at the Nashville studios of Decca, then New York, where a booking at the Apollo caused quite the ruckus because the audience expected Holly to be black.
The show ends with a replication of the Feb. 3, 1959, concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, with Holly performing along with the Big Bopper, who gets the audience going with “Chantilly Lace,” and Valens, upping the decibels with “La Bamba” (yes, you get to sing along). A string of Holly hits goes dark mid-“Rave On,” as a somber radio voice announces all three men were killed in the crash of their chartered plane. It could have been quite the buzzkill, but the interlude was brief and respectful, then the rock and roll resumed full volume, ending with the classic “Oh, Boy!” Most everyone leaves singing, but you can’t help wonder what might have been had Holly listened to his wife and never gotten on that plane.
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