Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
With a book by Alan Janes, Buddy is a pretty standard show business bio, perhaps a bit generic until the music kicks in. Buddy Holly, born Charles Hardin Holley (1935-1959), was an early rock and roll pioneer, drawing from the same hillbilly roots that fed Elvis Presley's music. In the few short years of his career, Holly launched over 15 major hits, including "That'll Be the Day," "It's So Easy" and "Heartbeat." Holly died in an airplane crash while on tour with J.P. Richardson (known as the Big Bopper) and Richie Valens.
Sixteen-year-old Maverick Wolf is Buddy Holly, and I will take an educated guess that Artistic Director Rick Kerby chose the show with this actor in mind. In order for Buddy to fully score, and with all the hit songs it has great potential to do so, the actor playing Buddy must be a commanding presence, dominate the stage. Wolf sure resembles the star. But the entire opening night performance was a bit plagued by low energy, and perhaps Mr. Wolf, carrying the show on his shoulders, felt this more than the rest of the cast and future performances will find him in better form, because he never quite filled the role with the star power it requires.
Playing Murray Deutch, Holly's first promoter, is Chris Wolf, father of Maverick. John Andruzzi as the Big Bopper has one of his best supporting parts in a long time and when it is his turn, he owns the stage. It's great to see this supporting stalwart in a really good featured role. Dylan Glover is Ritchie Valens and ditto to him, when it is time for "La Bamba." Blair Schultz as bass player Joe B. Mauldin, Jeffrey Stoddard as drummer Jerry Allison, and Tommy Busch II as guitar player Tommy Allsup form Holly's backup group The Crickets, and all contribute, both musically and dramatically.
Preston Boyd directs with fluidity, but tighter transitions from scene to scene would improve things, as Janes has written the piece so that it can proceed seamlessly. Costumes by Donna Riggs are true to the period, Lea Umberger contributes a nicely functioning set, and Patrick Bedell, as always, lights with a sure hand. Tom Sell's sound design keeps the show clear, not always the case in this sometimes problematic theater.
Music director Rick Bogner shows up on stage a few times, but mostly plays from the pit. Besides the musicians playing The Crickets, he is assisted by Terri Booth on various sizes of saxophones.
I'm pretty sure audiences will enjoy Manatee Players' tribute to early rock and roll pioneers Buddy Holly and The Crickets.
Buddy - the Buddy Holly Story runs through November 10, 2019, at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton FL. For tickets and information, call 941-748-0111 or visit manateeplayers.com.