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Theater Review: "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story"

Noah Zuniga-Williams as Buddy Holly with Randy Coull and Dawn Marie Zuniga-Williams as Norman and Vi Petty
Photo credit:
Adriana Zuniga-Williams

Buddy Holly, who had a short life but a huge influence on early rock and roll music, comes alive again in OnStage Playhouse’s terrific production of “Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story.”

Born in 1936 into a musical family in Lubbock, Texas, this skinny kid with black hair and a nerdy look (heightened by big black horn-rims which he wore for looks) wrote, recorded and produced his own material. He started in country music but quickly shifted to rock and roll, and is credited with defining a rock and roll band as two guitars, a bass and drums.

And all this by the age of 22, when he died in a plane crash along with Ritchie Valens (Edgar Diaz-Gutierrez) and the Big Bopper (Anthony Donovan).

But “Buddy” won’t burden you with a lot of facts; it will beguile you with music by Noah Zuniga-Williams – a find as Holly – and an excellent supporting cast of multitalented actor/singer/instrumentalists.

“Buddy” shows us some of the flak he got from record producers who weren’t sure this new sound would sell. But other musicians and the public loved songs like “That’ll Be The Day” and “Peggy Sue.” A newspaper soon called rock and roll “a communicable disease.” It quickly became an epidemic.

Buddy did a lot of things quickly.

When he met secretary Maria Elena Santiago (Kelly-Noelle Henry) in a record company office, he immediately told her he was going to marry her – and a few months later, did just that, unfortunately making her a widow a few months later.

“Buddy” is one of OnStage’s biggest shows, sporting 15 actors (most playing multiple roles) and great sound from singers and musicians (some of the band members also play in The Rollers, a local Beatles tribute band).

Philip John has the right sound and attitude as DJ Hipockets Duncan, Dawn Marie Zuniga-Williams is excellent as recording studio secretary Vi Petty and others and Jared Alatorre is terrific as Buddy’s drummer Jerry Allison.

One particularly amusing scene takes place in Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where local performers Marlene Madison (Stephanie Nesbitt), trombonist Wesley Etienne and saxophonist Anthony Hanna can’t wait to laugh these out-of-place honky rubes off the stage. But they hear something they, too, like.

One thing you can always say about Buddy Holly’s songs: they’re danceable, and it’s difficult to stay in your seat during this show. If there were a bit more space in the theater, I’m sure some audience members would be up there cutting a rug.

Bravo to this terrific cast – Nesbitt with her voice as big as all outdoors, trombonist Etienne with some moves of his own to back up the cool sound from that horn and Austin Gatus, the only bassist I’ve ever seen play while lying flat on his back on the floor.

Kudos to director Teri Brown as well, who keeps the show rocking, and her crack design team. Set and lighting designer Chad Oakley contributes movable pieces that allow the show to keep moving; costume designer Pam Stompoly-Ericson takes us back to those years and Steve Murdock adds a fine sound design.

Credit Martin Martiarena with the fine musical direction for what is, at heart, a concert piece and a rockin’ blast from the past. Don’t miss this great show.

The details

“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” plays through August 6, 2016 at Onstage Playhouse, 291 Third Avenue, Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (619) 422-7787 or www.onstageplayhouse.org