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Theatre Review (LA): Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story by Alan James and Rob Bettison, Music by Buddy Holly

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I was around during the birth of rock and roll. This includes Bill Haley and The Comets, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly. Of all of these I found Buddy Holly, Charles Hardin Holly, one of the most captivating. His musical style was unlike any other and featured his unique way of phrasing using glottal stops. His tragic death in 1959 at the age of 23 captivated a nation that was just getting used to this new kind of music. Holly died in a plane crash on a snowy night while traveling from one small city to another. With him were fellow musicians The Big Bopper and Richie Valens. They say that celebrity deaths happen in threes, so here was a case of all three happening at once. The trauma of the news of their deaths has stayed with us; remember this is before the series murders that defined the 60s, 70s, and, finally, with John Lennon, the 80s. The death of Buddy Holly was a crack in the veneer of complacency of the 50’s.

There is a musical which salutes Holly’s legacy and features over 20 of Holly’s “greatest hits,” not a bad record for his brief three-year stint in the music world. The show is called Buddy and is getting a very good production at La Mirada Performing Arts Center. It is directed by the ubiquitous Glenn Casale (how he does it in less than two weeks is amazing) and features brilliant choreography by Dana Solimando who has done all the local Swing productions and to great acclaim. 

At the center of all this is Buddy himself, played by Brandon Albright who has mastered the singing style and guitar playing of the original. He is supported by a wonderful group of musicians/actors including T.J. Dawson as the Big Bopper, Manuel Romero doing a remarkable and sexy Richie Valens, Brent Schindele as his producer (and he plays a mean piano), Jennifer Leigh Warren as a singer at the Apollo Theater in New York, Christina Mantzke who nearly steals the show with her piano playing and rendition of the National Anthem; also the Crickets who back Holly up (Matt Wolpe and the hilarious Omar D. Brancato) are terrific. Buddy plays at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts until May 2nd.

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