Buddy cast photo

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is easily the most entertaining show I’ve seen in Vancouver this summer. For the sheer amount of hard work that lead Zachary Stevenson puts into this production (his seventh tour to date), not to mention the fine cast of talented musicians, I was completely blown away by this two and a half hour show last night at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.

Zachary Stevenson
[Zachary Stevenson]

It’s as though Stevenson puts on a Buddy Holly hat and doesn’t remove it for the entire evening. He makes this role look so natural to perform in. Sitting in the audience, I felt transformed back to 1956, through Buddy’s personal experiences with the band, his producer, his speedy love affair with Maria-Elena (Elena Juatco) and his skyrocketing career.

Zachary Stevenson, Elena Juatco
[Zachary Stevenson, Elena Juatco]

The audience learns the story of Buddy (born Charles Hardin Holley in 1936) and his band’s rise to fame from their small-town roots in Lubbock, Texas, where country and western was king, and not a lot of space was left over for the likes of the rock and roll bands that were trying to make it on the scene.

According to KDAV’s DJ (Mat Baker) in Lubbock, “You can’t sing and you can’t play”. Holly’s music was definitely not accepted in these parts. According to Wikipedia, Holly saw Elvis Presley perform in Lubbock in 1955, and began to incorporate a rockabilly style to his own musical approach.

Jeremy Holmes, Scott Carmichael, Zachary Stevenson
[Jeremy Holmes, Scott Carmichael, Zachary Stevenson]

Buddy and The Crickets learn quickly that the music scene “just ain’t fair”. While they do get a recording contract at Nashville’s Decca Records, it’s not until at a smaller outlet in Clovis, New Mexico (where Norman Petty accepts their unique sound) that they’re given a chance to cut loose and record their songs. Soon, they get down to business, with Holly spending hours of Petty’s (well played by Mark Burgess) studio time perfecting each and every nuance to their first album. Even Petty’s wife Vi (brilliantly played by Seana-Lee Wood) gets in on the action, helping with keyboard accompaniments.

And once That’ll Be the Day starts to rise up the charts with increased airplay, good ol’ Lubbock, Texas is proud to call them their local boys.

The stage sets rotate to include DJ booths, a roller rink, a winter dance party, and one of my favourites, the Apollo Theatre in NYC’s Haarlem. Apollo MC (Tom Pickett) can’t believe his eyes when the four lads arrive, fresh and ready for their set – about to perform in an all-black venue!

Once a couple of numbers are performed, Pickett can be seen on stage, percussion instruments in hand, really digging the boys. Holly challenged the politics of the time by crossing the racial barrier to perform music that black people were both playing and listening to.

This production features two talented local singing legends Sibel Thrasher (who I had the pleasure of watching perform at last year’s World Kindness Concert) and the aforementioned Pickett, both lending their talents throughout the various numbers.

I especially loved Kieran Martin Murphy’s role as Big Bopper/Hi-pockets. His performance of J.P. Richardson’s Chantilly Lace, complete with striped gold pants, leopard print jacket, and gold telephone receiver, is a riot. Ritchie Valens (a lithe Michael Antonakas who struts his stuff for the ladies) also does a terrific job in the second act during the big Winter Party at the Surf Ballroom.

Clear Lake, Iowa was fortunate to have seen these true heroes of their time perform, on that fateful evening before the plane crash that sent Holly, Big Bopper, and Valens to their untimely deaths.

The audience becomes part of the live show at the Surf, complete with cheerful 50’s styled programs handed out by female backup singers. By the show’s end, the audience is on their feet, clapping along to the numbers and giving the company a very well deserved standing ovation.

Zachary Stevenson

Stevenson came on after the show to talk about his role and how Buddy has transformed his life through gigs and travel. He’s very passionate about this role, and has recently produced a CD of his performances of Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Phil Ochs songs. He graciously donates a portion of each CD’s sale to benefit Doctors Without Borders, an organization that he’s supported for years.

On a side note, if you’re interested in following Stevenson on a trip he took to some of Holly’s landmark towns, check out this fun YouTube video.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story continues to August 26 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage in Vancouver.

Photos by Tim Matheson.


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