Director – Casey Hushion
Music Director—James Cunningham
Set Designer – Edward T. Morris
Lighting Designer – Samuel Rushen
Sound Designer – Matt Kraus
Costume Designer – Tammy Spencer
Buddy Holly– Andy Christopher
Jerry Allison – Zach Cossman
Joe B. Mauldin –-Sam Weber
Norman Petty– Paul T. Taylor
Hayrider/Vi Petty—Cheryl Allison
HiPockets Duncan/MC– Matt Allen
Hayrider/4th Cricket/Tommy– Spencer Baker
Frigo Jingle/Maria Elena–-Addie Morales
The Big Bopper/Decca Producer/DJ– Benny Elledge
Ritchie Valens/Decca Engineer—Nikko Kimzin
Hayrider/Murray Deutch/Jack Daw/DJ—Steve Gagliastro
Man at Apollo—Troy Valjean Rucker
Hayrider/Frigo Jingle/Peggy Sue—Julie Rhodes
Frigo Jingle/Shirley/Mary Lou Sokolof—Laura Wetsel
Ensemble : Benny Elledge, Steve Gagliastro, Adrianna Hicks, Brian Mathis, Addie Morales, Julie Rhodes, Troy Valjean Rucker, Scott Wakefield, Laura Wetsel
Photo credit: Urdaneta Photography
Reviewed Performance 5/30/2015
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
One of the most shocking moments in music history occurred on February 3, 1959, better known as “The Day the Music Died.” En route from Clear Lake, Iowa, three pioneers of early Rock, as well as a handful of others lost their lives in a tragic plane crash after leaving the Winter Dance Party. There were so many strange occurrences surrounding this day as well as the series of events that occurred, leading up to that day. From Ritchie Valens winning a seat on that plane in a coin toss, or future Country Music Outlaw (then member of Holly’s back-up band) Waylon Jennings giving his seat to J.P. Richardson as a gesture of kindness (Richardson was suffering from the flu while on tour), and even the friendly banter between Holly and Jennings that would come back to haunt Jennings in later years. Holly jokingly told Jennings, "I hope your ol' bus freezes up!" Jennings jokingly replied, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes!"’ It was a heartbreaking bit of irony and America was unknowingly about to lose these musical giants.
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 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 truly educated 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 afternoon, everyone in the audience reunited with their music, their spirit and had the opportunity to sing with these innovators in rock music. It was truly an opportunity that will never come along again.
Director Casey Hushion brought together a highly-skilled ensemble and assembled a crew who showed their love and respect for the story. 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 care. There was never a moment when I thought 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. What a privilege!
Set Designer Edward T. Morris successfully transformed the stage and took audiences back to the late 1950’s. As one might expect with Casa Mañana, the scenic design is truly impressive. 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. Mr. Morris effectively utilized the space, and also kept 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. From the second level radio/engineering booths, to the floor design of a 45 record, 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, 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.
Lighting was designed by Samuel Rushen. This is a facet of the theater I have often found to be an afterthought, but Rushen did a fantastic job plotting lighting that was appropriate throughout the performance, his quick lighting kept the scenes moving, and the quick pace of the story-much like the quick pace of the rock music. His use of vintage signage (radio call letters, especially) was an excellent way to create atmosphere. It is apparent that Rushen and Morris worked very well together in a collaborative team when conceptualizing the lighting and the scenic design.
Assisting the lighting and set, Sound Designer Matt Kraus 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 sound of the 1950’s. Songs like “Sixteen Candles” by The Crests, and “Come Go with Me”, by the Del Vikings were standouts. Some of these songs I have not heard in many years. We rarely get the opportunity to hear songs from early rock and doo-wop in our time, as it is being phased out of terrestrial radio in favor of a newer generation of oldies music (70’s and 80’s). It is apparent that Mr. Kraus paid great attention to detail when selecting this catalogue of music. 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.
Tammy Spencer designed costumes that were not only period appropriate but had a precise and fine attention to detail. Spencer’s costumes really gave life to these characters on stage. From the suit and ties that were worn by Buddy Holly and the Crickets, to the brightly-colored ensembles worn by various performers at the Winter Dance Party, each costume really embodied the fashion of the fifties, and was another element of the performance that really helped to take me on a journey from 2015 back to 1959. Each costume was very authentic, and also added depth to these fictionalized versions of rock icons.
Andy Christopher really brought down the house as Buddy Holly. Through facial expression, intonation and body language, Christopher convincingly portrayed the young 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. Christopher never faltered in his delivery, and all interactions with other cast members were believable and spot on. Whether it was “Peggy Sue” or “That’ll be the Day,” Christopher elevated the energy and excitement of the audience in his portrayal of Holly.
Nikko Kimzin’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. Kimzin was able to give Valens life again on stage, if only for a brief 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 to the percussion section.
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 experiencing a live performance of Mr. Holly and his contemporaries. You will not get a finished ending, however, as the story takes the sad fates of Holly, The Big Bopper, and a seventeen-year old Ritchie Valens and leaves the audience wondering what might have happened if they had not gotten on that plane. I know one thing, though…if there is a “rock and roll” Heaven, they have one heck of a playbill. You have such a short time to see THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY at Casa Mañana. “It’s so easy to fall in love” with this production.
THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY
3101 W. Lancaster Ave.
Fort Worth, Texas 76107
Plays through June 7th
Tuesday--Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 pm, Sunday at 2:00 pm
Tickets prices range from $41.00 to $76.00, based on seating.
For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.casamanana.org or call their box office at 817-332-2272.