May 25, 2012 by Ali Swider
The crowd literally could not stay seated. By the final scene of “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” which took place at a chintzy yet soulful concert at the Walnut Street Theatre, several women in the audience had erupted from their chairs to jive along with the dancing actors onstage. One even proceeded to make her way down the stairs, sashaying her hips and flailing her arms to the beat of songs like “Peggy Sue,” “Maybe Baby” and “Chantilly Lace.”
Musicals are certainly an enjoyable source of entertainment, and viewers typically provide enthusiastic feedback, but rarely does it take the form of seemingly out-of-body experiences like those at this show. Although these reactions were alarming and quite unusual, they were no less justified.
Buddy Holly was and continues to be a musical icon, dominating the record players of his time and extending to the CDs and iPods of generations to follow. His significant presence in the history of music is undeniable; his contributions to the industry changed the face, or rather, ear of music through the popularization of rock ‘n’ roll. In short, he was a young, enthusiastic, free-spirited man who was able to shift the tides from the dominating genre of country to a new sound.
That being said, it then makes sense why spectators at the “Buddy” musical were so overcome by the music. It was the music of their youth and is still the music of their adulthood. Just as we rage to Chiddy Bang or Super Mash Bros. — and you can’t say you haven’t seen some interesting spectacles at concerts like these — so, too, did these audience members.
Assuredly, the actors and actresses deserved such zealous regard. Leading man Christopher Sutton embodied the boyish, easy-going nature of Buddy Holly, belting out classic tunes such as “Oh Boy,” “That’ll Be the Day” and “Raining In My Heart.”
What’s more, he starred alongside his wife, Lyn Philistine, who played Holly’s wife-at-first-sight, Maria Elena (an “aw, that’s cute” realization, for sure). Accompanying them onstage were equally talented performers making for a cast as lively as the crowd.
Starting from the practical joke of the opening scene, in which Holly and the Crickets transformed a country performance into a rock ‘n’ roll ballad on a local radio station, the crowd was engaged in the trials and errors of Holly’s rise to fame. The cast excelled in portraying the journey, whether in Holly’s home state of Texas or a recording station in New Mexico or even a black performance hall in Harlem.
On top of that, Casey Hushion, the director and choreographer of the production, succeeded in incorporating the audience into the show. More often than not, the actors would encourage the audience to participate in call-and-responses and sing-alongs, which only heightened the eagerness of the jiggy ones in the audience.
Aside from the hubbub of excitement, the musical was also able to achieve a more serious tone, especially when dealing with Holly’s unexpected death in a tragic plane crash in 1959. Indeed, Sutton successfully played on the emotions of the situation, having Maria Elena give a haunting premonition of the crash in a dream of hers before Holly leaves for what would be his final tour.
“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” will continue to play until July 15 at the Walnut Street Theatre for its 203rd anniversary season.