Big finale: (Left to right) The Big Bopper (Scott Free), Buddy Holly (Travis Poelle) and Ritchie Valens (Davitt Felder) sing each song as if it were their last.
PacRep Theatre scores a hit with 'Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story'
By Joyce D. Mann
The bittersweet story of rock and roll icon, Buddy Holly, started in Lubbock, Texas, on Sept. 7, 1936, and ended near Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959--the day the music died. PacRep Theatre's production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, now running at the Golden Bough Theatre in Carmel, takes us through the last three years of Holly's life and his dramatic rise from local entertainer to international phenomenon.
Travis Poelle is the quintessential Holly: We meet him for the first time at a country & western concert in Lubbock, where the locals are more comfortable with the down-home quality of the Hayriders than they are with Holly's hip-jiggling performance.
A contract with Decca Records falls through, but Holly and the Crickets are taken up by Norman Petty (Richard Boynton), and the scene is set for a run at the record charts. Luke Darnell and Dave Schulz put in brilliant supporting performances as Crickets Joe B. Mauldin (bass) and Jerry Allison (drums), respectively. Music director Don Dally is guitar-playing Cricket Tommy.
Early recording scenes get off slowly, but are enlivened by the winning performance of Lynn Whiting as Vi Petty. Act 1 concludes with the tour de force concert at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, featuring all-time favorites "Not Fade Away," "Peggy Sue" and "Oh Boy."
Holly's sudden marriage to Maria Elena (Kendra Arimoto) takes everyone by surprise. As with other well-known groups, the advent of a wife brings its own problems, and Holly and the Crickets part ways. The scenes between Arimoto and Poelle are perhaps the least satisfying in the show, and fall flat after the energetic finale to Act 1.
Holly's final concert is at Clear Lake, Iowa, on a bitterly cold, snowy February evening. This onstage finale is a 12-piece set that brought the house down in 1959 and continues to bring the house down nearly 50 years later. Scott Free, well known to Santa Cruz audiences, is featured as the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson). His performance of "Chantilly Lace" is a showstopper. Davitt Felder struts and bounds around the stage as Ritchie Valens, in a superb performance of "La Bamba." Sadly, both Richardson and Valens were also killed in the plane crash that claimed Holly's life only hours later.
This loosely knit biography is tied together by the music, and what fabulous music it is. The show is not just a tribute to Holly but to the development of the American pop-music scene, from country & western through doo wop to rock & roll. The Beatles and others owe a lot to Holly's style and pioneering spirit. The development of Holly's "sound" is subtle. His early performances, while adequate, do little to prepare us for the rush of talent that concludes his all-too-short career.
There is substance in the show for music historians. Holly has to pledge a 10th of his earnings to the church, indicating that performers in the South in the 1950s went nowhere without the blessing of religious communities. At that time, too, rock & roll was a sound associated with black performers, and there were "color" issues for Holly. When Holly is booked into the Apollo Theater in Harlem, local patrons and performers are stunned when the all-white group turns up. Holly manages to wow the audience and his later concerts incorporate black performers and their distinctive sound.
Direct Steven Moorer brings us a multitalented cast of musicians and actors. The Clear Lake backup singers, Kendra Arimoto, Kay Akervik, Aime Ehrenpreis, Jessie Sage, Michael Evan Blackburn, J. Scott Browning, James (Pete) Russell and Daniel Simpson, and the Clear Lake musicians Davis Giedt (trombone), AJ Wecker (trumpet) and Cory Watkins (saxophone), all deserve a special mention.
Of course, everything hinges on Poelle's presence as the legendary Buddy Holly. His performance is superlative, and it holds everything together.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story plays Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm through Dec. 30 at the Golden Bough Theatre on Monte Verde, between Eighth and Ninth, in Carmel. For tickets, call 831.622.0100 or visit www.ticketguys.com. Twist and Shout Tribute Concert plays Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 7:30pm through Dec. 30, and 8:30pm Dec. 31, also at the Golden Bough Theatre. It features music from Elvis Presley through the Beatles, and many of the fine performers from 'Buddy.'
Send a letter to the editor about this story.