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Buddy Holly Lives

November 8, 2022

By Jack Getz

Buddy Holly played from his heart. And FST’s Winter Mainstage opener, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, goes straight to the heart of who he was.

Playwright Alan Janes Buddy is a different animal. The mind behind this musical doesn’t love Holly’s music because it’s old. Janes loves it because it’s good. After seeing FST’s take on Alan Janes’ musical, we believe you’ll feel the same way. But be sure to take off your rose-colored glasses before you take your seat.

Because nostalgia is a liar. Sentimental fantasies about the 1950s distort the true picture of who Holly really was. To get the picture, stop framing Holly’s story in the past. Imagine that it’s all happening now. And try to see Holly through the eyes of somebody living in that time.

And that’s exactly what Janes reveals in his innovative, original script.

Contemporary cliché defines Buddy Holly as cute and cuddly. A nice guy with blocky plastic glasses and a big smile. Safe and unthreatening.

Holly was a nice guy. But he was also a revolutionary. A savvy musical innovator who took pop music apart and put it back together. A white kid with a keen ear for rhythm and blues. And how Black talents like Ray Charles put their music together. And, big smile or not, a young talent with the courage not to knuckle under to music industry representatives who wanted Holly to pump out the syrupy country schmaltz they knew how to sell. And who didn’t dig the honest emotion of the kid’s music and lyrics. And, truth be told, who actually found him threatening as hell.

Because the kid was good. And his music was great. And it still is.

Show director Jason Cannon agrees.

“Buddy Holly’s music is amazing,” said Cannon. “That’s one key reason this show keeps running all over the world. Most theatergoers already know about Holly’s amazing hits like ‘Peggy Sue’ and ‘Everyday.’ But this musical also fills their ears with amazing Holly tunes they didn’t know about. You’ll sit through this show and say to yourself, ‘He wrote that song too? And that one? And THAT one?!’ What Holly accomplished as a songwriter and performer in just under three years is extraordinary. He truly altered the landscape of popular music.”

Cannon adds another explanation for this musical’s popularity. This one is bittersweet.

“This show reminds you of the roads not taken in Holly’s life story. What if that Beechcraft Bonanza plane hadn’t crashed? How would Holly have kept evolving musically? What other boundaries would he have shattered? What other songs would be woven in the fabric of our lives? We’ll never know the answers. Buddy Holly remains frozen in time for us, incorruptible, and glowing with youth and hope. His story reminds us to live our lives more fully. Because nobody knows when their story will end.”

Although the Gompertz has no dance floor, Holly’s music will sure make you want to.

“Other productions have gone in for big orchestral arrangements of Holly’s music,” Cannon says. “We didn’t want to go that route at FST. Holly’s music is stripped down to pure essentials. He’s not overblown. He went straight to the heart of the matter in the most honest, direct way possible. That’s the music Holly played. That’s who he was. We stay true to that with a seven-piece rock band.”

In addition to over a dozen of Holly’s hits you know and love like “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” and “That’ll Be the Day,” you’ll also hear hits by other artists of the time including The Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace” and Richie Valens’ “La Bamba.”

Called “Sensational” by The Huffington Post and “Rockin’ Happiness” by the Chicago Tribune, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story celebrates the bespectacled kid from Texas who changed the face of Rock & Roll forever.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story played in FST’s Gompertz Theatre from November 3, 2021, to January 9, 2022.