The story of Buddy Holly is one of music's greatest tragedies. After a too brief three year recording career, Holly died at the age of 22 in a plane crash - yet still managed to become one of the most influential figures in rock 'n' roll history.
But if you want the tragedy, you'll have to listen to "American Pie" on repeat. Because Rainbow Stage's summer season opener Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story is all about celebrating Holly's life and his music.
And Alan Janes' jukebox musical accomplishes at least the latter...eventually.
Beginning in his Texas hometown in 1956, when the soon-to-be legend was just 19 years old, we follow the career of Buddy Holly (a perfectly-cast Jeff Giles, who buoys the show with charisma and energy) as he goes from unwilling country artist to rock 'n' roll innovator.
Jeff Giles (centre) and Michael Cox (Robert Tinker)
There are some nice musical moments in this, including a spot-on rendition of "That'll Be the Day," courtesy of Giles, along with drummer Ryan Voth and bassist Michael Cox as Jerry Allison and Joe Mauldin, the rest of the Crickets.
But the first hour of Janes' script is paint-by-numbers biography, and isn't helped by too-slow pacing from director (and recently-appointed artistic director of Rainbow Stage) Ray Hogg. A montage of Buddy and the Crickets working on their first rock album in the studio is sluggish, uses an awkward slow motion transition between scenes, and is frustrating in that we mostly get only snippets of what we've all come for - Buddy's music.
Things really start to cook, though, with the concert-within-the-show that ends the first act - the Crickets' historic 1957 performance at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, where they became one of the first white acts to play the venue.
As the Apollo house band, Lisa Bell, Michael Clarke, and Kimberley Rampersad bring the house down with the high-energy originals "Good Time" and "Party." By the time the Crickets arrive with classics like "Peggy Sue," Buddy feels like a proper party indeed.
The second act starts slowly again, but sprinkles in a bit more music with the story - most notably a lovely unplugged rendition of "True Love Ways" by Giles, in one of the musical's too-few emotionally resonant scenes.
But it's not long before we've reached the show's main event - the last concert Buddy would ever perform, before boarding his final flight with tourmates J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson (Gerrit Theule) and Ritchie Valens (Curtis Brown).
This is where the 15-member cast - most of whom do double-duty as musicians, along with musical director Andrew St. Hilaire - shine. We get delightfully toe-tapping versions of hits like "Maybe Baby," "Peggy Sue Got Married," and "La Bamba" in quick succession, and all superbly performed by the multi-talented ensemble. The wrap is fast, fun, and a rocking good time, and it brought the crowd to its feet on opening night.
The hitch is that by the time we reach the encore, the show is already pushing the three-hour mark - and it doesn't need to.
But if you're patient, Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story
will reward fans of vintage rock 'n' roll.Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story runs at Rainbow Stage until July 6.
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