The set up: UpStage Theatre's production of Buddy-The Buddy Holly Story is heart-warming, vastly entertaining, full of musical classics, and, all-in-all, a glorious, flawed celebration. It is not really a play at all, though it sketches key events, but is one of the first jukebox musicals. The skits by Alan Janes that bridge the songs often lack pace and finesse, though the ground-breaking music is so toe-tapping that it hardly matters.
The execution: Buddy Holly was a rock-and-roll pioneer who died tragically in 1959, at the age of 22, in a plane crash that also killed Ritchie Valens and J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson on the way to their next gig. Stephan Krosecz as Buddy has the requisite youth, a good voice and is eminently likable. He fills the lead role credibly, though he hasn't found the inner authority of a musical genius, nor captured the body language of Buddy as a performer. Brian Chambers plays drummer Jerry Allison, as well as Ritchie Valens, with engaging fun, and Sam Sigman portrays the Bopper with power and a magnetic stage presence. Todd Greenfield as an M.C. has great timing and delivery and also portrays bassist Joe B. Mauldin. Kurtis von Krueger plays guitarist sidekick Tommy Allsup with quiet effectiveness, and Marissa Viso is beautiful and appealing as Buddy's wife Maria Elena. Buddy's stint at the Apollo Theater in Harlem lets us see Norris T. Thompson II as a singer with an eye for the ladies, in a standout performance that is hilarious and captivating. Matt Zipko plays several roles well, and dances up a storm as a backup dancer.
The large ensemble provides strong support for the leads and contributes very substantially to the evening's success, up to and including (you guessed it) dancing in the aisles. While many of the songs are by Buddy - "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue," among others - the evening's renditions include of course "La Bamba" for Valens and "Chantilly Lace" for the Bopper. The large live band is excellent indeed. The entire fun-filled endeavor is extraordinarily ambitious for a small theater troupe, and the directors Sean K. Thompson and Arnold Richie are to be commended for tackling it and pulling it off.
The verdict: Talent, energy and enthusiasm abound and more than make up for a borderline script that needs tightening. The exuberance onstage spreads to the appreciative audience, as they participate in the excitement of sharing a moment of musical history while having a fabulous time.
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Through July 30, UpStage Theatre at Lambert Hall,1703 Heights Blvd., 713-838-7191.