Connecticut ~ Review: "The Buddy Holly Story" at the Palace Theater

By Nancy Sasso Janis, OnStage Critic The dates that "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" tour hit Waterbury coincided with a winter storm warning posted for the second of their two day run at the Palace Theater. The theater posted that "the show must go on" and ticket holders were offered the option of switching to the Friday night performance that thankfully ended before the snow began to fly. The irony of the fact that the scene of what would be Buddy Holly's final concert in Clear Lake takes place during an onstage snowstorm was not lost on the opening night audience.

This show marked the first time that I have reviewed a touring company production of a piece that I had already seen at a local community theater. I am referring to the excellent version of Buddy that was produced by Landmark Community Theatre at the Thomaston Opera House. One might think that a touring company could easily outshine a little community theater, but in this case LCT was the one to beat. My teenaged son, the ultimate Buddy Holly fan/expert who very much enjoyed the musical in Thomaston, begged me to take him to the Palace to see the tour. He called Mr. Holly an influential rock and roll pioneer and knew every word of every song. He was the youngest person in the audience and probably enjoyed it more than anyone else in the theater.

The musical (and it is packed with musical numbers) written by Alan Janes tells the true story of the iconic Buddy Holly from his rise to stardom to his untimely death. The second act is the more dramatic but the joy in the rock and roll that its star brought to the fifties musical scene far outweighs the drama. The tour is directed by Steve Steiner with the fine lighting designed by Darren Coopland.

The multi-talented cast is what made this production exciting to watch. There was no orchestra, so the actors doubled as musicians, and very good ones at that. They also had to dance and sing and move all the scenery around. The only thing they didn't do was run the light board and it all worked seamlessly. It was hard to believe that they were a cast of only eleven members.

Todd Meredith, in his 17th production of Buddy as the title character, has the role down to a science. A great actor/singer/musician, his performance was flawless. Mike Brennan was big and loud as the Big Bopper and Eddie Maldonado, in his touring debut, was a fantastic Ritchie Valens.

Here is where the program is a little confusing but I think Alejandro Gutierrez danced his way through the role of Tyrone Jones at the Apollo Theater and David Reed was billed as Marvin Madison. Nathan Yates Douglass, who covered very well for a little wardrobe issue, played music producer Norman Petty and Maryann DiPietro played his wife Vi, as well as the piano.

Logan Farine played Crickets drummer Jerry Allison and an uncredited actor did bass gymnastics while playing the upright bass during "Oh Boy" as Joe B. Mauldin. The musical abilities of both of these actors were very impressive to me and the kid next to me that plays both instruments. Martin Murray played Lubock DJ Hi-Pockets Duncan in addition to many of the eleven instruments that he has mastered. Zach Sicherman played the 4th Cricket on guitar. Jenny Stodd was believable as Maria Elena who becomes Buddy's wife.

While there was noticeably no Apollo Theater featured performer, there was another uncredited female singer. The scenery and costumes designed by Adrian Rees set the mood and was lit well. While my son would disagree, I missed an ensemble during the aforementioned final performance and I felt that the acting by a couple of the cast members was not quite as good as their musical ability.

Everyone around us had a great time during this feel-good musical, but not as much as my young seatmate. The two performances of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" on Saturday will go on as scheduled.