Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

The Day the Music Died

The story is heart-breaking, but the music is energizing on the Grand’s stage: Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is always a crowd-pleaser and this production is no exception.

The story tells of the very short career of Buddy Holly. In 1957, he appears on local radio as a country & western singer with his two bandmates, The Crickets. One night he plays a rock ‘n’ roll song he’s written, and the local disc jockey tells him his music has a “coloured feel to it”, which upsets advertisers. Hoping to find someone to record their music the way they want it, they finally find Norm Petty who agrees to let them do rock ‘n’ roll. He’s already recording another young fellow by the name of Orbison. Finally their music gets radio play, and they are on their way to stardom.

They even book a concert in the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, where the organizers believed they were a black band. Buddy meets Maria Elena and proposes to her after just a few hours. Eventually rifts flare up between Buddy and his band, and Buddy goes on tour on his own, reluctantly leaving his pregnant wife at home. And after topping the charts for just over a year, his life ends all too soon. Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens are killed in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, the day the music died.

Zachary Stevenson offers a very convincing Buddy, and well he should, having played the role many times. In fact, I saw him in this role in 2006 at Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend. (Huron Country Playhouse has offered Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story three times — 2003, 2006 and 2013 — and Stevenson was the best of the Buddys.) When he dons the heavy, black-framed glasses, and slides his hand through his hair, he becomes Buddy. He has the “aw shucks”, humble, good guy attitude, but still demonstrates Buddy’s stubbornness when it comes to music. Yet he makes Buddy so very likeable.

This show calls for quadruple threats — the cast must sing, dance, act and play a musical instrument. Credit goes to director Susan Ferley for finding the talent to handle the challenge. Each cast member plays more than one role and all handle it superbly. Credit also goes to musical director Bob Foster for bringing a group together and capturing that ’50s sound, and to choreographer Amy Wright for recreating the ’50s moves.

We hear all the Buddy Holly favourites: That’ll Be the Day, Oh Boy!, Peggy Sue, Every Day, True Love Ways, Rave On and more, as well as the Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and Richie Valens’ La Bamba. The audience is at a party of one hit after another.

The finale to the show is a re-enactment of Buddy’s final concert before that fateful plane trip. The entire cast is on stage singin’, dancin’ and rockin’ it, bringing audience members to their feet.

I overheard one theatre patron say as he was heading out the door, “I had no idea he was popular for only about 18 months. He did a lot in a short time.” So true, but so sad if you think about what more Buddy Holly could have done. This show nicely encapsulates all his talent, with cast members who have talent of their own.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story continues at the Grand Theatre until May 7. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 519-672-8800 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.