By Edward Kliszus

The Florida Rep stage was packed with rock n’ roll talent for their fabulous portrayal of The Buddy Holly Story and his songs that changed music forever!

It’s best to recognize the recipients of well-earned standing ovations and a full house. Major kudos to the cast, Michael Perrie, Jr. (Buddy Holly), Noah Berry (Jerry Allison/Drums), Matt Cusack (Musical Director/Joe B. Mauldin/Bass), Armando Gutierrez (Ritchie Valens/ Others), Merritt David Janes (Hipockets, Big Bopper/Others), Samantha Sayah (Maria Elena/Others), Veronica Stern (Marlena/Others), and Garrick Vaughan (Tyrone/Others/Tenor Saxophone).

This evening, Buddy Holly and the Crickets materialized from the infinite collective memory of musical history thanks to a coterie of multi-talented, accomplished musicians, actors, dancers, and sensational storytellers. They were outstanding throughout the performance. It wasn’t just a musical but a concert performed by gifted musicians. The audience danced, clapped, sang, and gyrated–all that was missing were lit candles of a teen audience swaying arms in the air to the beat.  

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We accompanied the troupe to Harlem’s Apollo Theater to see their debut. We first enjoy the excitement and musical antics of Garrick Vaughan and Veronica Stern as MCs warming up the crowd with their fabulous, classic rendition of Shout. The scene is beautifully timed and humorously developed as our MCs discover to their amazement, that the Crickets are white, from Texas, with an appearance that doesn’t seem to match their music—the mystery of radio and records, after all. Tentative at first but soon rockin’ the house, the Crickets introduce themselves through song for a receptive audience. It’s a panorama of charm, innocence, discovery, and celebration of the universality of music and the coming together of cultures with perhaps more in common than expected.

This show is a story of joy, youth, charm, promise, love, ambition, and loss. The cast and crew meet the challenges of sumptuous storytelling by invoking their remarkable musical and dramatic talents. The story’s poignancy is palpable and continues to lie in the musical psyche of those who remember Buddy Holly or appreciate his legacy. Don McLean’s 1971 song American Pie touched on Holly’s tragedy (“The Widowed Bride”) and artfully reminds us of the timelessness of great music, precious heroes who touched us, and the inevitability of loss. Not portrayed in the story, and suitably so, is that Holly’s widow Maria lost their child in a miscarriage resulting from the trauma of Holly’s plane crash in February 1959 at age 23.

The story unfolds as the audience gawks at the beautiful 1950’s 1950s-style stage, peering into an earlier time and space at the studio at KDAV in Lubbock, Texas. The Hay Riders, an iconic country band of bucolic repose, play the relaxing Rose of Texas complete with washboard, tenor saxophone, and flugelhorn. Our charming and boyish heroes, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, appear to follow suit with the equally rustic Please Be True to Me My Darling, but after a few bars, break into a foot-tapping, hard-driving, rock n’ roll version to the audience’s delight and dismay of the studio director.

Buddy Holly was looking for his place in music and found it. Country music was a start, but it didn’t fit his ambitions and musical vision of nonconformity. He was determined to perform music his way—imposing eyeglasses and all. We are provided insights into Buddy’s creative process, seen through the humorous juvenile inventiveness behind the song Peggy Sue, the original seen here recorded live on the Ed Sullivan show. We discover Holly’s trusting innocence and loyalty, his bon vivant nature, courage, and aspirations, and are reminded of his enduring legacy.

Amazing costumes by Stefanie Genda, visually stunning stage and lighting by Bert Scott and Julie Duro, coruscating choreography by Amy Marie McCleary, well-balanced sound by Adam Trummel, and deserving praise for Director Jason Parrish, Stage Manager Ruth E. Kramer, and Assistant Stage Manager Sarah Goshman.

In the show are surprises and stage antics envisioned in a circus ringleader’s imagination, nostalgia, romance, drama, and more.

Runtime: 150 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission

By popular demand, the Buddy Holly Story is extended through April 24!

For those who prefer 1950s vernacular, don’t miss it, Daddy-O. It’s nifty, and you’ll flip your lid! Don’t be an L7 like my uncle Maynard G. Krebs!

You’ll need to move quickly to get tickets.

After Buddy Holly, only one play is left in the 2021-2022 season for the Florida Rep – Maytag Virgin, which you need to attend to understand the title. Given the sensational ticket sales of The Buddy Holly Story, which has broken all Florida Rep sales records, it is strongly recommended to get a subscription as soon as possible for next year’s unique offerings.

Tickets are here or type https://tickets.floridarep.org/TheatreManager/1/login?event=1569

Or at the ticket box window at:

2268 Bay Street

Fort Myers, Fl 33901

(239) 332-4488 For our other reviews of the Florida Rep, click here.

Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Broadway by the Year: from Ziegfeld to Moulin Rouge