Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story
At the Stanley until Aug. 26
It’s weird—and wonderful—that Zachary Stevenson has now been portraying Buddy Holly for longer than Buddy Holly’s meteoric, 18-month period of stardom in the late ’50s. You could almost say Stevenson is more Buddy than Buddy. If there’s a heaven and if Holly’s there, he might say, in his Texas twang, “Wal, jest a goshdarn minute,” but I’ll bet he’s thrilled that someone with the spectacular talent of Stevenson is keeping his memory alive. Stevenson hadn’t even been born in the ’50s, but he’s grabbed Buddy’s pelvis-swivelling, twisty-legged style and made it his own.
Rock ‘n’ roller Holly died at the age of 22 in a three-seater plane crash that also took the lives of the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, but not before Holly swept the top 10 charts with songs like “Peggy Sue,” “That’ll Be the Day” and the melancholy “Raining In My Heart.”
Buddy started as a country singer but he wanted to sing rock ‘n’ roll. It took some convincing to get radio stations and Decca Records to let him play that “godawful trash,” but when they did—look out, music world. And what about those geeky trademark glasses? When asked if he could shed them, Holly defiantly replied, “Buddy Holly wears glasses. And. Here. They. Are,” planting them firmly on his face.
Buddy, written by Alan Janes, starts with some well-executed but slowpoke country music played by guys in big jeans, but after that the show really rocks. Stevenson is massively energetic and tremendously charming. It’s a workout; it’s almost a workout just watching him play guitar, sing and cavort all over the stage. The Energizer Bunny could take some pointers from this Vancouver Island-reared and educated (UVic) boy.
Directed by Bill Millerd, Buddy is a big show that draws in big names from the Vancouver scene, including Sibel Thrasher, Tom Pickett, Alec Willows and Seana-Lee Wood. Holly’s original three-piece band, the Crickets (played here by Jeff Bryant, Scott Carmichael and Jeremy Holmes) expands to seven (including keyboards, trumpet, sax and trombone) by the end of the show. And by that time, there are backup girls in frothy, strapless gowns (designed by Rebekka Sorensen) and backup guys in suits and bow ties, too. Choreographer Valerie Easton puts them through their paces on Ted Roberts’ various sets that include a recording studio and several clubs. Lighting designer Marsha Sibthorpe keeps it all bright and splashy—especially the club scenes where everything just goes stratospheric.
Well worth mentioning are Elena Juatco who, as Buddy’s wife Maria-Elena and one of the backup gals, is so vivacious you can’t take your eyes off her. And reprising his role as Ritchie Valens, Michael Antonakas raises the temperature at the Stanley with his rousing, pelvis-thrusting, butt-wiggling “La Bamba.”
An interesting sign of the times was Holly’s gig at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre where everyone was shocked to discover Buddy Holly and the Crickets were “honkies” because, as Holly says, “We sound black.” Pickett is very funny as the Apollo MC who warns Buddy, “If you’re not great, you’re dead.”
Another observation, my second time around with this show, are the lyrics that contain a whole lot of “Baby, baby,” “I’ll have you, baby” and “I’m a-gonna tell you how it’s gonna be/you’re gonna give your love to me.” It was, my 15-year-old guest reminded me—a feminist from a long way back—the 1950s. Back then, what was perfectly acceptable sounds downright silly now.
But the show is terrific. I couldn’t keep still and wondered when we were going to start rocking in the aisles. Stevenson is a star, a hard-working actor/musician/composer and recording artist. If Buddy were an Olympic event, Stevenson would be wearing gold and the band would be playing “O Canada.” Or maybe “Peggy Sue.”