THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY(Presented through special arrangement with Buddy Worldwide Limited.)
Written by Alan Janes
Artisan Center Theater
Director – Bill Brooks
Music Director—Richard Gwozdz
Scenic Designer—Wendy Searcy-Woode
Lighting Designer – Cassondra Plybon
Sound Designer –Richard Gwozdz
Costume Designer – Alex Eddins
CAST (at reviewed performance)
Buddy Holly– Thomas Goetz
Joe Mauldin –-Bryce Wyatt
Jerry Allison – Hunter Muncrief
Tommy Allsup (4th Cricket)—Jeremiah Massie
HiPockets Duncan—Mark Scott
Maria Elena/FBV—Jordan DeLaO
The Big Bopper—Billy Myers
Ritchie Valens—Elias Roman
Murray Deutsch—Daniel Orges
Norman Petty—Robert Hamilton
Vi Petty/FBV—Katy Hill
Maria Elena’s Aunt—Sonia Alcala
Decca Producer—Dan Johnston
Decca Assistant—Brendon Ramsey
Clear Lake Backstage Emcee—Brendon Ramsey
Clear Lake Onstage Emcee—Daniel Orges
Apollo DJ Reporter—Daniel Orges
Apollo Performer—Sheridan Keyton
Apollo Performer—Genine Ware
Shirley/Mary Lou Sokoloff/FBV—Lindsey McCallum
Hayrider Singer—Deedle Muncrief
FBV=Featured Back Up Vocals
Reviewed Performance: 5/20/2017
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY is set in Texas in 1956 at a time when rock ‘n’ roll was in its humble beginnings. The sounds of Country and Western music flooded the radio (especially in Lubbock, Texas) but Buddy Holly and the Crickets were a small band with huge aspirations of making an impression in the emerging new sound of rock ‘n’ roll. The large ensemble cast includes a wealth of musical talent: including Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson, better known as “The Big Bopper”. Though the play only gives a glimpse into Buddy Holly’s career, the audience is given the appropriate music history lesson about the lasting impression that Holly left on rock music, not to mention the influence that his music left on the artists that came long after his death. Through the entire performance, the audience was full of energy as they sang along with Holly, Valens, and The Big Bopper. For one evening, everyone in the audience was reunited or introduced to their music, and their spirits, and had the opportunity to sing with these innovators in rock music. It was truly an opportunity that will never come along again.
Director Bill Brooks brought together a fantastic ensemble (of all ages) and assembled a crew who demonstrated a great respect for the story and the real personalities that they portrayed. The crew knit together scenery, lighting and sound that enhanced the story being told by the characters. Each actor portrayed their role with sincerity and a great attention to detail. There was never a moment when I felt that I was watching actors playing a role. I was drawn into their world and given the chance to see and experience what it would have been like to see these legends in person, and for a music enthusiast, was a real pleasure.
Set Designer Wendy Searcy-Woode successfully transformed the theatre-in-the-round stage and took audiences back to the late 1950’s. I am always struck by how scenic designers are able to accomplish in a short amount of time, and with such precision for detail and care. Ms. Searcy-Woode effectively utilized the space, while also keeping the intimacy of the story. In a production with multiple locations, it can sometimes be difficult to fully invest details that convey each location. The attention to detail was inspiring. The photographs and newspapers with Buddy Holly’s image adorned the walls, and the stage was equally conceptualized to convey multiple locations within the story. At times, I feel that this can be one of the most difficult tasks for a scenic designer in the arena theatre. Scenic designers are presented with the challenge of figuring out how to transform the space into something versatile that allows the audience to see all areas of the stage, while also allowing for constant scene and location changes. Ms. Searcy-Woode did a fantastic job conquering the challenges and obstacles that goes along with both areas.
Overall, the design and concept really established the mood of the production. In the second half of the show, the audience is transformed and assumes the role of patrons of the 1959 Winter Dance Party. I felt that this added even more to the experience. Not only was there an opportunity to see these musicians (and a reveal of the other live musicians supporting the rock and roll sound) but, to know that we were actually there in the audience. I enjoyed seeing elements of a dance party, with a full set up of a bandstand on stage, with vibrant colors, and elements of the 1950’s style.
Assisting the scenic designer, Sound Designer Richard Gwozdz carried through with his own detailing, and I especially appreciated the use of his choice of music in the pre-show and intermission music. Each song selected was a gem that was a part of the quintessential catalogue of 1950’s rock and roll. It complimented the feel of Holly’s music nicely. I also enjoyed hearing the differences between the different styles of music. It was a nice touch that added depth to my experience of the play, by hearing the slow, romantic songs (“Everyday” and “Words of Love”) on stage at a very low level, and then cranking up the volume for the up tempo “Chantilly Lace” and “Oh Boy.” The rock songs sounded very raw, and really gave the audience an electrifying shot of energy. Each song brought the house to singing, clapping, and pure excitement.
It was also a pleasant surprise to discover that the actors playing Buddy Holly and The Crickets were all playing their own instruments, and two of them, Thomas Goetz and Hunter Muncrief (who portrayed Buddy Holly and drummer Jerry Allison) are actually in high school. They have the skills of professional musician and session players. Both gentlemen totally brought down the house with their phenomenal and spot-on playing. What a treat to see two young men with such professional skill and ability. I am confident that they will take their musical abilities to the professional arena. Bravo, gentlemen.
Thomas Goetz really brought down the house as Buddy Holly. Through vocal intonation, facial expressions, and a youthful boyish charm, Goetz convincingly portrayed Holly, on his rise from small town Texas musician to the pinnacle moment in his career, The Winter Dance Party. His role was the most intense, and his presence on stage constant, interacting with the audience, while telling Holly’s story through humorous and appropriate dialogue. Goetz never faltered in his delivery, and all interactions with other cast members were believable and spot on. Whether it was “Peggy Sue” or “Rave On,” Goetz elevated the energy and excitement of the audience in his portrayal of Holly. Mr. Goetz even resembled Mr. Holly, complete with Holly’s dark-rimmed glasses, his signature accessory.
Elias Roman’s brief appearance in the role Ritchie Valens, forerunner of the Chicano Rock Movement was another standout. With his rendition of “La Bamba,” he really intensified the mood on stage, and was very believable as the young Valens. His facial expressions and movements were spot on. Roman was able to give Valens life again on stage, if only for a brief moment in time.
The overall talent in the ensemble was very apparent. Many actors portrayed dual or triple roles, even doubling as members of the Clear Lake Band at The Winter Dance Party. Each role was played with importance, and the ensemble worked very well together. I enjoyed seeing the vast array of their musical talents from the brass section and woodwind sections.
This production of The BUDDY HOLLY STORY is definitely worth seeing. The attention to detail evident in all aspects of this production makes for a satisfying experience. If you never had the opportunity to see Buddy Holly perform live, I highly recommend you take this chance-it will be as close as you will ever get to seeing a live performance of Mr. Holly and his contemporaries. It will certainly make you leave the theater wondering what music each of these talented musicians would have created had they survived that night in February 1959. You have a short time to see The BUDDY HOLLY STORY at Artisan Center Theater, then, much like The Winter Dance Party, it will only be a memory.
Plays through June 3rd.
Artisan Center Theater
444 E Pipeline Rd, Hurst, TX 76053
Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays (7:30pm)
Seniors (60+) / Students $20
Children (12 & under) $9
Fridays (7:30pm), Saturdays (3:00pm / 7:30pm)
Seniors (60+) / Students $20
Children (12 & under) $11
For more information, and to purchase tickets, call: 817) 284-1200, or visit: http://www.artisanct.com.