On February 2, 1959, after the 11th stop on their Winter Dance Party Tour, three of rock and roll’s originators – Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson – died in a plane crash a little over an hour after they played their last song and 329 adoring fans filed out of the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.
In The Night the Music Died, a song-by-song recreation of that final, bittersweet concert with actors portraying each of the doomed musicians, Texas Family Musicals “literally throws [audiences] into a sea of nostalgia,” says TFM Executive Producer Mike Skiles.
“It’s a strange thing about music; if you play a song back [from] when you were a kid, it’ll take you back momentarily to memories that you had forgotten,” says Skiles. “[People] remember where they were when they first heard it, or what skating rink they were at, or what date they were on.”
But it’s more than just nostalgia; Skiles attributes the show’s success to the fact that it’s a theatrical production, and not an impersonation act.
“[The actors are] not necessarily musicians, so much as actors that can sing and play instruments,” says Skiles. “Even back then, the people that were playing were 19 years old and 20, and they learned in their garage. The quality is better here.”
The cast is led by Kevin Kratzke, who plays Holly, the biggest star at the time of the crash. “He knows Buddy Holly’s mannerisms right down to [a] tee, because he’s done it for ten years in a row,” says Skiles. Daniel Artuso tackles the role of The Big Bopper – aided, Skiles says, by “the magic of YouTube" – and Danny LeMache, Valens, just 17 at the time of the crash.
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Skiles readily admits that the audience tends to skew a bit older for the show, and since premiering in 2004, they’ve attracted relatives of the men they portray – at least 30 members of Richardson’s family will be making the trip out to Galveston yet again this year to see the show – which makes for quite the discerning crowd. Yet Skiles has seen first hand the effect the show can have on a person – a like a 70 year old dancing in the aisle without a care in the world.
“For two hours, you have no problems just like you did when you were 16,” says Skiles. “Enjoy it. The strength of that old-time rock and roll, that just stays forever.”
Performances are scheduled for 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. June 16-18 and June 30-July 2 at Moody Gardens, One Hope Boulevard, Galveston. For more information, call 855-667-1221 or visit texasfamilymusicals.com. $25 to $50.