Buddy Holly’s brief but prolific career produced many hits in the late 1950s. Most people are familiar with his sudden death in a plane crash when he was just 22, along with 17-year-old Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. We know how this story will end going into this show, but the journey there is filled with groundbreaking music and a moving story.
American Blue Theatres production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story was written by Alan Janes and directed by Lili-Anne Brown. We follow Buddy Holly (Zachary Stevenson) and The Crickets Joe (Shaun Whitley), Jerry (Kieran McCabe) and Tommy (Michael Mahler) as they journey from a Texas country band to rock and roll fame. We watch young men develop as they long for a different sound in a turbulent time in music and American history.
The cast skillfully tells this tale while also singing and playing various instruments. They were an engaging and energetic ensemble with many cast members seamlessly switching roles. Mahler also served as the show’s musical director and, in the writer’s opinion, was able to create an authentic sound. The show features other artists from the time-period including Ritchie Valens (Cisco Lopez) and Big Bopper (Vasily Deris). Lopez, Deris and Stevenson do a spot-on job of emulating the original performers vocally and physically. We also get a glimpse into Buddy’s short-lived relationship with Maria Elena (Molly Hernández) and see the trails they faced as an interracial couple during that time. Hernández and Stevenson aptly bring their passionate, brief romance to life.
The smaller space at American Blue’s Theatres Stage 773 location makes us feel like we are actually at a concert. The show works best when the setting allows for the actors to acknowledge and include the audience. The nostalgia of the music plus the intimate feel of the space made for a truly fun. The energy from the audience was palpable as most people were dancing in their seats and singing along.
The end comes, as we all know it will, with the infamous plane crash that takes the lives of Holly, Valens, the Big Bopper and the pilot. Rather than focusing on the inevitable tragedy, this show more prominently features Holly’s life and art. It will leave you feeling uplifted and, most likely, singing.
The show is perfect for lovers of early rock and roll.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Sarah E Ross
Samantha C Jones
Lily Grace Walls
Ian Paul Custer
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
About the Author
Taryn Smith graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago's BFA Performance program in 2011. After graduating, she co-founded Realize Theatre Group and served as Executive Director for the company. She has filled numerous roles while with RTG both on and off stage including making her playwriting debut with her play America, Inc . She has worked as a stage manage, designer, director, and actor. Outside of the theatre world, Taryn is a licensed massage therapist.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Taryn Smith.