February 3, 1959 may well have been, as Don McLean sang it, “the day the music died,” but the music of Buddy Holly lives on at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in the crowd-pleasing musical/tribute concert hybrid that is Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story.
Rock ‘n’ roll fans will forever commemorate 2-3-59 as date that 22-year-old Buddy lost his life in a plane crash just five miles from the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the site of the pop star’s final concert only hours before.
Though the loss of the plane’s pilot and Buddy’s fellow passengers, recording artists Richie Valens and Jiles Perry “JP” Richardson, Jr. (aka The Big Bopper), were equally untimely, it is the erasure of Holly’s musical genius that has been most felt in the fifty-six years since that winter night.
Fortunately for the music world, Holly’s genius has survived through his songs. The three albums Holly released during his lifetime (and the many more released posthumously) have become rock & roll classics, and have inspired and influenced Hall Of Famers The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and many more.
Since 1989, the biomusical/revue Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story has been keeping Buddy’s legend alive, first with a nearly 13-year-long West End run, then with a 1990 Broadway staging, and in the years since with countless other regional and international productions, including this latest from Candlelight.
Unlike Jersey Boys’ Tony-nominated book, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story’s by Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson is a bit of a featherweight, though in its defense, the life Buddy led was a charmed one, with none of the drama that plagued The Four Seasons. Thus, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story gives us the major highlights of a too-short life and career, but keeps its main focus on Buddy’s music.
And what music that is, with hits like “That’ll Be The Day,” “Words Of Love,” “Everyday,” “Oh, Boy!,” “Peggy Sue,” “It’s So Easy,” “True Love Ways,” “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” and “Raining in My Heart,” all recorded during the brief eighteen months of Holly’s career. Holly was also the first rock musician to write his own songs, with the Beatles and Keith Richard later following his example.
Under John LaLonde’s spot-on direction, and featuring a charismatic star turn by Jared Mancuso, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story wins over its audience from the country-and-western tunes that start off the show, to The Crickets’ first hit, “That’ll Be The Day” and those that followed, to the grand finale that has audience members up on their feet dancing along to “Johnny B. Goode.”
The absolutely sensational Mancuso has been spending the past couple years as Buddy, either in regional revivals of the musical that bears his name or in his own self-penned tribute show Buddy’s Back!, and this immersion into Buddy’s life and music shows. Not only is the triple-threat pretty darned sexy even in Buddy’s extra-heavy-rimmed horn rims, he totally convinces us that he is indeed the legendary singer-musician-songwriter, capturing every iota of Buddy’s infectious charm, good nature, and enthusiasm. Mancuso sounds just like Buddy, accompanies himself to perfection on the guitar, and following in the real-life Buddy’s footsteps, holds the audience in the palm of his hand.
Holly’s backup band, The Crickets, are brought to zestful life by Julian Johnson as Joe B. Mauldin (playing double bass in more positions than you might think humanly possible) and Lonn Hayes (showing off both drum wizardry and comedic chops as Jerry Allison), with Cullen Law strumming expertly as occasional Cricket Tommy Allsup.
Resident Candlelight technical director Orlando Montes makes for a muy exitante Richie Valens, belting out Valens’ signature hit “La Bamba” con mucho calor latino, and Robert Hoyt excels as music mogul Murray Deutch and, most impressively, as mountainous rocker The Big Bopper, singing the bejesus out of “Chantilly Lace.”
Jade Rosenberg performs charmingly as Holly’s Puerto Rican wife María Elena, and yes, Buddy did propose to her on their very first date. As MaryLou Sokolof, Kim Dalton sings and strums a version of The Star Spangled Banner that’s almost worth the price of admission, plays quite a few instruments herself, and joins Rosenberg, Washington, and a fine Kylie Molnar as vocal backup for Mancuso in the final concert which makes up the bulk of the show’s second act.
John Nisbett does a folksy turn as radio DJ Hipockets Duncan, David Laffey and Jennifer Strattan do delightful work as record producer Norman Petty and wife Vi, and Kevin Gasio (Mr. Jack Daw), saxophonist Dan Silva, and Josh Tangermann complete the cast quite niftily indeed.
Nick Fouch’s set design transforms into multiple locales, best of all as the flashy grand-finale concert venue, albeit with an occasional bit too much of between-scene delay. Merrill Grady’s costumes and wigs (the latter designed by Mary Warde) recreate fifties fashions and dos in fine fashion. Steve Giltner’s lighting (provided by StreetLite LLC) varies effectively from realistic indoor lighting for recording studio sessions to a pizzazzier look for concert performances. Sound design/mixing is top-drawer too.
Daniel Bride stage manager. Executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval serve up Candlelight’s invariably scrumptious cuisine. Kudos go too to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and especially to artistic director LaLonde.
Buddy Holly became a star in his very early twenties. Were he still alive today, he’d be seventy-eight, and his surviving fans from that era are now well into their seventies and eighties.
In other words, there is no one too old to enjoy Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, and no one too young to be enraptured with the timeless music of this much loved, much lamented legend. Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is fabulous entertainment for anyone who’s ever rocked out to a rock ‘n’ roll beat.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
January 18, 2015