Wednesday, February 16, 2011

'Oh Boy', Buddy Holly Rocks At HJT

‘Oh Boy,’ Buddy Holly Rocks At HJT
The Cape Cod Chronicle Feb. 17, 2011

by Jennifer Sexton

Let’s talk about the glasses.

Black, heavy-rimmed and square, the iconic eyewear has come to be known in popular culture shorthand as, simply, Buddy Holly glasses. But don’t forget—in 1959, they were just called “glasses.”

This is a great place to start when contemplating the blistering talent, meteoric rise and early flame-out of one of America’s truly staggering talents—one that we lost so quickly we almost didn’t know what we had.

“Peggy Sue.” “That’ll Be the Day.” “Oh Boy.” “Everyday.” “Maybe Baby.” The hits are so familiar, so iconic, so much a part of the fabric of American music and so numerous that it’s nearly beyond imagining that Buddy Holly’s career spanned a mere 18 months before it was cut short, along with singers Richie Valens, J.P “The Big Bopper” Richardson and their pilot, Roger Peterson, as their plane crashed in a snowy Iowa field in February 1959. Holly was only 22 years old.

Before researching Buddy Holly, the image that sprang to mind was a still frame of a skinny, clean cut, geeky looking nerd in a suit and tie, sporting the aforementioned heavy-rimmed glasses. My surprise was genuine when I spent some time on YouTube watching footage of Buddy and his band, The Crickets, performing on early television’s Arthur Murray Party in 1957. Introduced by a stately Kathryn Murray who encouraged viewers to “keep an open mind” and surrounded by seemingly stunned and motionless teens in formal dance attire, Holly and the Crickets absolutely tore up the place. With a slight sneer and startling energy in an under two-minute whirl through “Peggy Sue,” Holly brought to mind nothing so much as a punk band in the 1970s or a 1990s garage band. Fairly vibrating with barely contained energy, Holly was unforgettable, the three-piece band tight as can be.

This was no nerd.

“He towers in the music world,” says Mary Arnault, director of “Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story” at Harwich Junior Theatre. “The talent, the vision at such a young age and then to die so young. He gave us so much in an incredibly small amount of time. It almost hurts to think of what might have been.”

There’s no almost about it. At the time of his death, with a catalogue of hits under his belt, Holly had entered the New York recording and producing scene. He had relocated to Greenwich Village, hoped to work with Gospel greats like Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson, and had registered for acting classes at Lee Strasburg’s acting studio, which produced such icons as James Dean and Marlon Brando. The sky was the limit for Holly. Tragically we will never know what his future might have held.

Nevertheless, despite the inevitable ending, Arnault points out that the show is a celebration of the man and the music, not a tragic tale.

“Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story” ran successfully in London’s West End for over 12 years, becoming a successful Broadway production with numerous subsequent tours and productions around the world. Chicago actor Eric Labanauskas has played the role before, and is described by HJT’s producing artistic director Nina Schuessler as “channeling Buddy Holly.”

“It’s a fun show to do, and we are thrilled that Eric will to do it again for us, in his East Coast debut,” says Arnault. A devout Buddy Holly fan, Labanauskas has twice visited the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa where Holly played his last concert and the memorial site in Mason City, Iowa. In his role as Buddy Holly, Labanauskas is supported by Crickets Trevor Pearson, Vincent Pirruccio and Samuel Dxiobek and a cast including Todd Moos as The Big Bopper, Brendan Cloney as Richie Valens, Cara Gerardi as Holly’s bride Maria Elena, Warren Harrington and Karen Dash as the Apollo Singers, and Doug Sivco, Stella Wolf, Emily Blodgett and Emily Hamilton.

As Holly, Labanauskas plays guitar and sings Holly’s hits, backed up by the talented musicians cast as The Crickets. During a few set changes and at different times in the production, recordings of the real Buddy Holly and The Crickets will also be heard.

“We started out with separate music rehearsals and stage rehearsals,” explains Arnault. “When we started to put them together, everything became energized and the cast was literally jumping up and down. This music absolutely energizes everybody, and I would like to thank musical director Bob Wilder in capital letters with lights all around it. Bob is doing a fantastic job, and choreographer Suzette Hutchinson has been very busy. It’s a great team. The set by Andrew Arnault is really cool, and J Hagenbuckle’s sound is inspired, with live mics all over the place. And the great Robin McLaughlin is doing costumes.”

Buddy Holly wasn’t simply present at the beginning of rock and roll. He arguably was the beginning of rock and roll.

“Absolutely the most important thing I have taken out of this experience is the realization that he was so innovative, so ahead of his time,” says Arnault. “At the time, even the fact that they were a self-contained three-piece band writing their own music seemed very dangerous to parents. This was very sexy, very dangerous. I mean, you look at Buddy Holly and he looks like such a nerd, but he was an enormous influence. The name The Beatles was in deference to The Crickets, and John Lennon was quoted as saying that Buddy Holly’s image as much as gave him permission to wear his glasses.”

“Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story” celebrates and brings to life the young man widely described as the single-most influential creative force in rock and roll history, who in his handful of years created a legacy that towers to this day.


“Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story”
Feb. 18 through March 20
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.

By Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson
Directed by Mary Arnault • Musical Director Bob Wilder
Box Office 508-432-2002

It's Alive... ALIVE!!!

That's right, everyone. The Harwich Junior Theatre blog is once again alive and kicking, thanks to a few long-overdue jolts of lightning and strategically placed electrodes. (Youch!) Get ready for a revisiting of the shows we've loved and neglected to blog about, from last year's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" to the present, along with photos, videos, cast and crew interviews, news, board meeting inside scoops, volunteer praise, parent input, comments, questions, answers, a suggestion box, and anything and everything else HJT.

And if you happen to notice me slacking off again, please. Please. Not the electrodes again. Those things smart. Just call me out on it and rough me up a little, and I'll be right back on track. I swear.

Let's start things off with a preview of "Buddy--- The Buddy Holly Story," directed by the lovely Mary Arnault. It opens this Friday, and I will be there with Ava and Amy Tag, who will be reviewing for The Cape Cod Chronicle.

I remain your humble blogslave,
Jen Sexton