Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Buddy Holly Lives On at La Mirada Theatre

Brandon Albright as Buddy Holly
Brandon Albright as Buddy Holly in BUDDY: The Buddy Holly Story
Photo by Michael Lamont

I grew up about an hour and a half from Clear Lake, Iowa where Buddy Holly would play the his last concert, the Winter Dance Party, at the now legendary Surf Ballroom. Following that performance Holly, along with fellow performers Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), boarded a 4-passenger plane out of the Mason City airport for their next tour stop in Moorhead, MN. Unfortunately, the plane would never reach its destination, crashing several miles after takeoff. All three, along with pilot Roger Peterson, died.

As recently as last year, the entrance of the corn field crash site was marked with a sculpture of Holly’s black-rimmed glasses, just off of Gull Avenue and 315th Street, about 8 miles north of Clear Lake. A monument consisting of a steel guitar and three records with the names Holly, Valens and Richardson is also located at the site.

Years later Don McLean would write his classic song “American Pie,” forever memorializing February 3, 1959 as “The Day The Music Died.”

La Mirada Theatre pays tribute to the musical legend in BUDDY: The Buddy Holly Story, now playing through May 2nd. The show features just enough storyline to get you to the next song and the play list of rock and roll hits makes this jukebox musical a must-see for the whole family.

Act I contains favorites like “That’ll Be The Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Words of Love” and the high-octane finale “Oh Boy.” In Act II, everything builds to the main event – and hits like It’s So Easy,” “Maybe Baby,” “Chantilly Lace,” and “La Bamba.”

Glenn Casale directs a cast of outstanding actor/musicians in BUDDY, with Brandon Albright leading the way as music legend Buddy Holly. Albright portrays good guy Holly with a passion that lights up the stage. He’s definitely got the look, but more importantly, he’s also got the musical ability. An accomplished guitar player, he’s mastered Holly’s vocal style, including the unique glottal stop that became part of his signature sound. As for the glasses, well, it was Holly’s idea to wear the thick black rims onstage when told it might not be a good idea. His response about what people might say “Buddy Holly wore glasses…and here they are!”

Backing him are Matt Wolpe as Cricket drummer Jerry Allison and Omar D. Brancato as bass player Joe B. Mauldin. And what a pair they are. Brancato’s antics with the bass are a show of their own, and when All-American Wolpe gets going on the drums it’s an absolute joy to behold.

The supporting cast is terrific too, many of them doubling on instruments. Brent Schindele turns in a fine performance as record producer Norman Petty, and later in the second act plays a mean piano. Christia Mantzke is Petty’s wife Vi, who doubles on keyboards including the celeste. The celeste had an unusual sound that Holly used in his hit “Everyday.” Percussion was filled in by having Allison create the sound by slapping his hands on his lap, just one of the ways Holly was inventive with his music. Mantzke is also featured at the Surf Ballroom in a pre-show “Star Spangled Banner” you’ll never forget.

Buddy Holly was able to bridge the racial divide of the 50’s in a way others could not, even achieving success at the Apollo Theatre. This was quite an accomplishment for a white musician at the time. Jennifer Leigh Warren, electric as ever in a hot purple satin gown, recreates the magic of the Apollo in a glorious “Party.”

Maegan McConnell is Maria Elena Santiago, the lovely woman who would eventually become Holly’s wife. T.J. Dawson and Manuel Romero bring down the house with their portrayals of The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. One can only imagine what success they would have had if their plane had not gone down in that Iowa cornfield.

Praise goes to musical director Darryl Archibald for bringing all the musical elements together beautifully in this rock and roll tribute and choreography credit goes to Dana Solimando. John Iacovelli’s set design, Marcy Froehlich’s costumes and Steven Young’s lighting create an especially effective cotton candy-like atmosphere at the Surf Ballroom.

Performances of BUDDY: The Buddy Holly Story will continue through Sunday, May 2nd at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in La Mirada. For tickets and more information go to www.lamiradatheatre.com/.

By the way, the Surf Ballroom and Museum in Clear Lake continues to commemorate the musical legacy of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P “The Big Bopper” Richardson during its annual Winter Dance Party in February. Long live the music.


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