Shawn Stalter, Chief Dallas/Ft. Worth Critic
I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate the life, legacy and musical genius of Lubbock, Texas native, Buddy Holly, than to experience Casa Manana’s powerful telling of “The Buddy Holly Story” on his birthday. Here, under the spacious Casa dome, director Parker Esse crafted a high energy, gripping performance which skillfully told the story of an iconic American rock and roll legend.
Born on September 7th, 1936, Buddy Holly began showcasing his talents as a singer/songwriter at an incredibly young age. In 1957, at the age of 19, Buddy, along with his band The Crickets, recorded a groundbreaking single, “That’ll Be the Day.” From there, the group became a household name and enjoyed a soaring popularity which landed seven Top 40 charting singles within a year.
“The Buddy Holly Story” not only showcases this rapid rise to fame, but also highlights the group’s struggle to overcome the rigidity of the American music industry circa the late 1950s. Sparking a firestorm in American society, rock and roll was vilified and seen as a leading contributor to the moral erosion of the youth. Fortunately, talented and tenacious musicians like Buddy Holly fought hard to gain a foothold in the industry and bring their unique sounds to life.
As the minutes ticked down to the start of the performance, a tangible excitement flowed through the audience. Young and old alike came prepared to celebrate the life and musical legacy of the bespectacled native Texan rock and roll pioneer on the 73rd anniversary of his birth. They were not disappointed. Casa Manana brought “The Buddy Holly Story” to life with such raw energy and exuberance that it more closely resembled a rock concert than a musical theatre performance. The infectious passion on stage whipped the audience into a frenzy of foot-stomping, hand-clapping zeal. The sheer volume of raw musical and acting talent assembled on the stage throughout this show was astonishing.
Buddy’s distinctive voice, look and musical style shone through in Andy Christopher’s phenomenal performance. He skillfully channeled Buddy’s unique demeanor, charm and attitude to deliver a nuanced and inspired interpretation of the role. A native Texan himself, Andy Christopher appeared to have forged a deep, personal connection with Buddy’s music. He navigated a wide range of Holly’s chart-topping hits including “Peggy Sue,” “Rave On” and more with brilliant technical prowess.
Although Buddy was the focus of this high-energy performance, Andy Christopher was by no means the only star to grace the stage. The dynamic duo of Joe Cosmo Cogen as “Jerry Allison” and Benjamin Brown as “Joe Mauldin” showcased top-tier musical and acting talent. Additionally, Cheryl Allison, as “Vi Petty,” Matt Allen as “Hippockets Duncan,” Addie Morales as “Maria Elena” and more helped make this a truly stand out show.
As Apollo performers, the talented duo of Trisha Jeffrey and Troy Valjean Rucker helped tell aspects of Buddy’s story in a powerful and unique way. On their rocket-fueled climb to popularity, Buddy Holly and the Crickets performed at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York. Almost exclusively an African-American entertainment venue at the time, Buddy and crew began their set but were nearly booed off stage at first. However, their surging rock and roll sound, which transcended the boundaries of race, and even drew inspiration from the black community, soon won over the crowd and helped further the group’s commercial success.
Unfortunately, no exploration of Buddy’s life is complete without visiting the bittersweet final performance he gave at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Alongside the “Big Bopper” performed by Jayson Elliott and “Ritchie Valens” played by Taylor Rodriguez, the cast delivered a robust performance which brought the crowd to their feet. Hits such as the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace,” and Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” had the audience clapping along and dancing in the aisles. As the show concluded, the chilling news broadcast discussing the plane crash which claimed the life these three young stars reminds us of that fateful “day the music died.”
Rock fans of all ages are sure to delight in Casa Manana’s powerful telling of “The Buddy Holly Story.” Don’t miss a chance to clap, sing and dance alongside the talented cast to celebrate the life, music and legacy of Buddy Holly.
Casa Manana’s “The Buddy Holly Story,” directed and choreographed by Parker Esse, runs through September 15th. The show includes music direction courtesy of Vonda K. Bowling, scenic design from Edward T. Morris, lighting by John Bartenstein, costuming courtesy of Tammy Spencer, hair, wig and makeup from Catherine Petty-Rogers and sound design from Jonathan Parke.
The show stars Andy Christopher as “Buddy Holly” and features Joe Cosmo Cogen as “Jerry Allison,” Benjamin Brown as “Joe Mauldin,” Matt Allen in the roles of “Hipockets Duncan/MC,” Cheryl Allison as “Vi Petty,” Addie Morales performing the role of “Maria Elena,” Steve Gagliastro as “Norman Petty,” Jayson Elliott as the “Big Bopper” and Taylor Rodriguez as “Ritchie Valens.” Additional cast members include Troy Valjean Rucker, Trisha Jeffery, Cameron Cobb, Morgan Haney, David Corris and Devin Berg.
Photo credit: Curtis Brown Photography