Lower Ossington Theatre’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story will have you leaving the theatre humming those familiar tunes and reminiscing about the good ol’ days. However, if you happen to have absolutely no idea who Buddy Holly is, then here’s a little lesson in Rock and Roll 101.
This jukebox musical reflects on the three years from 1956 to 1959 that Buddy Holly rose to fame as one of the greatest recording artists of his time. Set in multiple locations, the show chronicles the beginning of his career as he desperately aims to write and record rock and roll music with his band The Crickets. Country Western stations and music managers passed the band up, until they were finally managed by Norman Petty, and thus an icon was born.
It would not be a true biographical musical if the show did not emphasize some bumps along the road to fame, including recording issues, a break up, and Buddy beginning a solo career before his untimely death in 1959.
Walking into the newly renovated Mainstage was like walking back in time to the 1950s as the theatre played music from various artists like Sinatra, Elvis and more. This, mixed with the black box intimate spacing, a pre-set stage of instruments and approximately one hundred audience members, was captivating from the get-go.
While I would not necessarily say that the writing for this musical is outstanding, it provides a clear, concise structure and reflection of Holly’s booming career. We get an almost documentary-style approach as we are introduced to specific moments of his personal life, like the brief montage of his wedding to Maria Elena (Rebecca Hergett) as told by reporters.
Clever techniques like a projected screen of dates and radio broadcasts constantly keeps us updated with a timeline of events and updates on his career. There are witty moments here and there as Holly goofs around with his bandmates, but what I found the most intriguing was watching a Holly incarnate work in the studio, writing and recording music – a true artist at work.
Nigel Irwin uncannily resembles Holly, encapsulating his image and body language to a T. It is this standout performance alone that gives the entire musical its life as he successfully encourages several audience members to get on their feet and dance along. With a strong ensemble and notable performances by Mike Buchanan (Ritchie Valens) and Thomas James Finn (Big Bopper), the energy continued to rise as the show progressed.
What really enhances the musical is the simplicity of its overall design. Erin Gerofsky’s costume design does not disappoint. I was highly satisfied seeing those iconic thick rimmed spectacles come to life, fully complimenting Holly’s preppy attire. Michael Galloro’s stationary set is practical and functional in serving multiple locations in the show from the recording studio, to backstage, to the Apollo Theatre. It also accomplishes that old-fashioned music venue feel with old microphones and brick paneling on the sides of the stage. What connects the design together is Mikael Kangas’ lighting that effectively depicts golden hues of the 1950s, specifically near the end of the musical as we are notified of Holly’s death. At this last projected screen, the performers freeze as golden lights shine onto their backs, illuminating their bodies.
This show is for the nostalgic at heart who I guarantee will be walking away with a smile on their faces and lyrics ringing in their heads over and over -- a true testament to a fun night at the theatre.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is playing at Lower Ossington Theatre until Oct. 25. For more information visit http://lowerossingtontheatre.com/.