Rock and Roll Hero Buddy Holly Lives On via Buddy

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Todd Meredith, who has the lead role in Society for Performing Arts' production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, has turned the musical into what could well be a lifelong career.

"I always aspired to be a professional musician," says Meredith from a hotel room in New Jersey where he and the rest of the cast are snowbound by the monster cold front that hit the Northeast this week. "But in fact acting in the Buddy musical has actually made a music career possible."

This is Meredith's 17th tour in the cast of Buddy, and he's turned his knowledge of Holly's repertoire into a popular Holly tribute band -- the Rave-Ons, named after the title of one of Holly's biggest hits -- that now works 50-70 dates per year.

"I'd never been to Lubbock, but recently we got hired to do a corporate party with a Buddy Holly Fifties and Sixties rock and roll theme, so I finally got to visit Lubbock and check out where it all came from.

"I was actually expecting a smaller, less impressive town," says the 31-year old native of Albany, New York, "but Lubbock was a very pleasant surprise. And it wasn't just the city and the college, it was the people. There's a friendliness and openness out there that you don't find everywhere that's uplifting."

The young actor notes he came to Holly via a back door, namely the oldies stations his parents preferred for their listening.

"The Beatles inspired me to pick up the guitar in the first place, and it was later I discovered Buddy had been such an inspiration and hero to them. I've been playing Buddy's songs 15 years and I still find them fresh and fun, that pure joy of rock and roll thing."

"Take the party we played in Lubbock. Some of these corporate gigs can be pretty numbing because you're just there for background. But at the thing in Lubbock, people all came dressed like they were going to a dance in the Fifties, they really got into the spirit of the thing and they were surprisingly knowledgeable about Buddy and his music. So we played a great show and everyone seemed quite happy."

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A person might think 17 tours of the same musical might get boring, but Meredith says "just getting to play that music live every night of the tour is exciting in a way a lot of people might not understand."

"Yes, there's acting, but this is almost like being in a band, where you do play your same songs every night," Meredith observes. "If I wasn't Buddy's music, maybe I would get tired of it occasionally, but that has never happened yet. I honestly can't wait for the curtain to go up."

As to why Buddy is still in demand after 25 years of productions all around the world, Meredith notes that two elements -- the power of Holly's music and uniqueness of his success and the subsequent tragedy of his death -- make it a magnetic story with great human interest.

"It's such a moving story about remarkable talent and creativity coming from this small-town kid. Coupled with the tragic ending, it's hard not find joy and inspiration in Buddy's story."

Meredith knows the importance of keeping a production fresh and appealing to both the audience and to the actors.

"The producer brought in some of the creative staff from the London production for this tour. They've made some very effective alterations that keep the show interesting and energetic.

"To outsiders it probably seems like the production has been the same for years, but I've been around it long enough to see the subtleties and new twists that various creative people have brought to the production at various times. It's not nearly as repetitive as an outsider might think."

In spite of all his time touring with Buddy, Meredith notes this will be his first time to Houston.

"You hear so much good stuff about Houston these days, I'm really looking forward to having some time to look around there and get a feel for the place."

Perrformances of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story @ Jones Hall, Friday, February 6, 8 p.m., and Saturday, February 6, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

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