— Zachary Stevenson in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. Photo by Tim Matheson.
BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY
(This is Jerry's review of the original Arts Club production from 2010)
This is one of the lamest scripts ever, with one of the greatest performances seen on a Vancouver stage in a very long time. Bill Millerd’s Arts Club production has the Stanley Theatre audience on their feet screaming at the end. It’s a well-deserved tribute to Zachary Stevenson, whose Buddy Holly is absolutely sensational.
I take this stuff seriously. “Peggy Sue,” Holly’s huge 1958 hit, was the second record I ever bought. The first was an instrumental called “Raunchy,” which in this super-sanitized version of his life story Buddy Holly definitely is not. He’s a clean-cut, wholesome Texas boy who just wants to play rock ‘n’ roll, not the corny old Fifties country music his manager and record company want from him. That’s about the only real conflict in the plot, and it’s resolved halfway through the first act when Buddy and his excellent band, The Crickets (Jeff Bryant lead guitar, Scott Carmichael drums, and Jeremy Holmes hotshot stand-up bass), hook up with producer Norman Petty (Milo Shandel) to record his rock/pop masterpieces: “That’ll Be the Day,” “Everyday,” “Not Fade Away,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” “Maybe Baby” and more.
Of course, Holly died tragically young in a plane crash that also took The Big Bopper (Kieran Martin Murphy) and Richie Valens (Michael Scholar, Jr., who rocks the roof off “La Bamba”). Unfortunately, the script drags out their final concert way too long. But what can you expect from a script with the most redundant title in the history of theatre. Imagine Hamlet: The Hamlet Story.
A Buddy Holly bio-musical could be really interesting—and really raunchy. Holly’s musical influences included fascinating characters like Elvis, Bo Diddley, and Little Richard, none of whom appear in Buddy. The clean-cut white boy was a good friend of Richard, the outrageous gay black rocker. A real good friend. Check out Richard’s story, in Charles White’s The Life and Times of Little Richard (p. 84), of a backstage threesome at the Brooklyn Paramount with himself, Buddy, and a girl named Angel. Good golly, Miss Molly!
But never mind what might have been. What we have here is a sweetnatured Buddy who calls men “sir,” loves his mother and his wife (Elena Juatco), and in Zachary Stevenson’s killer performance, looks and sounds remarkably like the real thing. Stevenson’s got the moves (including a nice version of Chuck Berry’s duckwalk), the energy and the twang down pat. He has a terrific relaxed voice, shown to great advantage in the almost a cappella “Everyday,” and he can rock the house with real authority in “Not Fade Away” and “Peggy Sue.” He also plays a mean guitar. Most impressive is his unforced charisma. Stevenson manages to evoke something like the feeling that people had hearing Holly and his peers for the first time—that this was transformative, world-changing music. And these singers were gods.
Kudos also go to Sasha Niechoda’s musical direction and a special shout-out to Tom Colclough for his screaming sax solos that evoke a time in early rock ‘n’ roll history when the saxophone, not the guitar, ruled the instrumental breaks.