Buddy Holly was one of the artists who helped popularize the new music genre, Rock and Roll. You can find out how influential he was in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, which opened at the Lower Ossington Theatre in Toronto on September 24, 2015. Directed by Alan Kinsella, this engaging musical follows the legendary rock-and-roll-star from his early beginnings as a country music singer in Lubbock, Texas to his meteoric rise to the top of the charts. Holly’s light shown brilliantly, but was quickly extinguished when he died in a single-engine plane crash at age 22 along with fellow musicians Richie Valens (“La Bamba”) and The Big Bopper (“Chantilly Lace”).
The undying fascination with artists whose fate brings them to an early death revolves around the question of what great things they would have been able to accomplish had they lived longer. We can only wonder regarding Holly, who displayed fertile talent at such an early age. He formed his band, Buddy Holly and The Crickets, in Texas when he was still a teenager and was signed to Decca Records by age 20. Decca wanted the band to forge a country music career, but Holly intuitively felt young audiences wanted to hear rock and roll and his instincts were right when he achieved his first hit, “That’ll Be the Day”.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story weaves these important details of the performer’s life into the script, but it’s Holly’s music that elevates this production. Performed by a stellar ensemble of musicians, Holly’s hits including “Peggy Sue,” “Everyday,” and “Maybe Baby” are true to the originals while “Not Fade Away” (a subsequent hit for The Rolling Stones) is performed with intense energy.
Set Designer Michael Galloro’s multi-level stage allows easy scene transitions from radio station to recording studio to concert hall, including the landmark Apollo Theatre in Harlem, where Buddy Holly and The Crickets were one of the first white rock and roll acts to perform.
Erin Gerofsky’s costumes, which include cashmere cardigans, loose wool-flannel pants and full circle skirts, reclaim the formality of the 50s.
Nigel Irwin captures Holly’s understated grace and onstage presence while displaying impressive guitar and singing skills, including replicating Holly’s trademark falsetto and vocal hiccups.
Thomas James Finn has found the perfect role in The Big Bopper and his enjoyment is contagious. Finn nails the rock’n’roller’s larger-than-life personality, baritone voice and charisma and dominates the stage during the Winter Dance Party scene.
Mike Buchanan infuses his role as the 17-year-old Ritchie Valens with youthful energy and excellent musicianship.
Angelica Thompson is sassy and suspicious as the female headliner at The Apollo and showcases a solid vocal range.
Colton Stang on trumpet and Devin Chubb on trombone provide a tight brass section on the Rhythm-and-Blues-based “Party.”
While the audience at The LOT included mostly baby boomers, the Lower Ossington Theatre’s dynamic production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story will definitely appeal to a younger audience, particularly those who appreciate great music and delivery. Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is one of the most entertaining productions I’ve seen at the Lower Ossington Theatre.
Tickets for Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Avenue, 416-915-6747, are $49.99, $59.99 and $69.99 and may be purchased online.