While the well-heeled, mostly gray-to-graying crowd was quite happy with Society of Performing Arts' presentation of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at Jones Hall Friday night, one nagging issue hampered the performance. The problem with any play or film about a Texas musical/cultural icon like Buddy Holly is one of authenticity. At Friday night's performance, authenticity was indeed the biggest problem for the audience to overcome.
With 31-year-old New Yorker Todd Meredith playing the part of Holly (who died at 22), the dialogue was a bit hokey in the sense that it was so over-the-top with the Texas accents -- or what cast members perceived and attempted as Texas accents. While parts of the play are supposed to be funny and gently poke fun at some of our cornpone-ish Texas hillbilly traits, the fake accents were a detraction and distraction for some.
It recalled the debut of the play Being Kinky Friedman, which had certain elements in it purposely designed for New York audiences. The yee-haw traits that the author assumed New Yorkers would think truly represent how Texans are were played up to such a point that a Texas audience found them laughable. We've heard all the Aggie jokes, but apparently New Yorkers haven't.
Think about it like this: imagine that a bunch of Houstonians decided to produce a play about the Beatles and took the production to the United Kingdom. You know and I know the Brits would never buy our accents. The audience might overlook them to some extent if the play were strong enough, but the critics would be all over that angle.
Accents aside, there was beaucoup talent onstage Friday night, and the cast put a rousing effort into the performance, which was divided into two acts. Act One followed Holly from his teen years as a country singer around Lubbock through his triumphant debut at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Act Two portrays Holly's life in New York City as he began to experiment with new musical directions and eventually parted ways with the Crickets.
It ends, of course, with his death in a wintry "the day the music died" plane crash outside Mason City, Iowa. [Note: this paragraph has been edited after its original publication.]
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Let's face it: 99 percent of the people who came to see the play already knew the story almost as well as they know the songs, so they didn't come for the storyline. No, they came to hear the music played live again. The majority of the crowd were happily into spirit of the thing and the players had no trouble convincing the crowd to clap along or to sing along or to holler "Yeah."
In fact, the play is almost like one of those Civil War reenactments; it is sometimes fascinating and instructive to see history represented as authentically as possible (accents aside!). No one goes to a Civil War reenactment and actually believes the men falling down are really shot or dead. Suspension of disbelief isn't necessarily a bad thing where this production is concerned. Most of the audience -- well-heeled, older -- seemed to be present to have a blast and they had it.
And that is the secret to this long-running jukebox musical, which is now 25 years old: the music is reproduced live as close to Holly's original sound as technically possible (although for rock and roll it was somewhat muted and low-volume), and scenes like Holly's timid entrance to the Apollo through his eventual standing-ovation triumph give us as close a live replication of his historic show as we are likely to get outside it showing up on YouTube.
Accent issues aside, the production will probably play very well in the hinterlands, where the accents may be more believable or less like a comedic caricature.
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