KPBS AIRDATE: JUNE 11, 1997
MUSIC up, “Oh Boy”
Almost forty years later, the music still sounds good. “Everyday.” “Peggy Sue.” “Maybe Baby.” “Oh Boy.” “Rave On.” Those Buddy Holly knockout hits still rock. And the San Diego Repertory Theatre is rockin’, too.
“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” has been running for eight years in London. A spin-off version hit New York in 1991. And now, a year after portraying Buddy in Kansas City, John Mueller has arrived in San Diego. Buddy Holly is back! Mueller is actually cuter and his voice mellower than the geeky, twangy, nasally Holly, but he conveys the legendary innocent charm. He’s totally engaging. And he sings and plays like crazy, even doing the backwards, over-the-head guitar riffs, just as his standup-bass player waves his instrument around like a tennis racket.
The story is historic. A meteoric crash-and-burn career. A good-ole boy from Lubbock, Texas revs up a whole new musical style, fusing blues, rock and gospel with down-home country, and coming up with something that changed rock ‘n’ roll forever. In 1959, Buddy died in a plane crash, at age 22, after a blazing rise and fall that lasted only 18 months. Years later, Buddy’s tragic death inspired Don McLean to write a song that lamented “the day the music died.”
But the music is very much alive in this show, even though the plot line and libretto get kinda muddy, and sometimes drag down the fun. The cross-country disc jockey cross-cuts don’t really work very well, or the Andrews Sisters-type radio ads. Or, for that matter, the framing of the piece by Lubbock DJ and early Buddy-supporter, HiPockets Duncan. Director Sam Woodhouse tries to beef up Alan Janes’ book with onstage action. What works best is the goofy interactions of Buddy and his buddies, the Crickets, especially the adorable, talented and thoroughly likable Stuart Johnson as drummer Jerry Allison. And then there’s Marissa Perez, who brings fizz and energy to Maria Elena Santiago, Buddy’s meet-’er-and-marry-’er wife.
When the show stops trying to be a book musical and settles into a rollicking concert format, things really sizzle. The final scene at that fateful final concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, is transcendent. There’s The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens — who died on that plane with Buddy that night — terrifically portrayed by Paul James Kruse and Fernando Flores Vega. They all sing “La Bamba” and then “Rave On.” And for a magical moment, I believed it. They were back. They were rockin’. They were fabulous. And then, to top things off, on opening night one of the real Crickets was there. Rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan, now 59, still looking and playing great, came onstage for the encore. It was fantasy and reality and a double-dose of damn good music. Rave on, Buddy!….
MUSIC, out… “Rave On”
Now, from classic rock to rockin’ the classics. You will never see another “Swan Lake” like Matthew Bourne’s brilliant production, currently wrapping up its American premiere in L.A. It’s wildly creative, sexy, suggestive, funny — and more than worth the trip. The costumes are gorgeous; the all-male swans are phenomenal. This is one heart-pounding, breath-taking piece of theatre, with unforgettable dance…..
Another fine piece of theatre, small but mighty, dripping with sarcasm, paranoia and a Dilbertian view of the work world, is Richard Dresser’s ”Below the Belt,” which was just extended a week at the Old Globe’s Cassius Carter Centre Stage. Tautly written (except for a tepid ending), tightly directed, superbly performed. Robert Foxworth, with his palpable neuroses and interminable facial tics, is outstanding, and, especially if you saw him last season as the suave upper class Brit in “Private Lives,” a dazzling example of artistic flexibility. Catch it if you can.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.