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Story and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisGiven rock n' roll's vast influence on American pop culture, it's hard to imagine a time when the genre wasn't reflected in the country's musical scope. Perhaps that's why the beginning of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" (which has thus far played to over 20 million people across the globe) is somewhat surprising, starting with the singer/songwriter's innovative 1950s beginnings with The Crickets, followed by a brawl with a Decca Records representative for being too radical. But no sooner than the suit-clad/horn-rimmed glasses bearing Holly refused to let producers mold him into a country musician, the rock craze caught on like wildfire and he quickly developed into a solo superstar, despite the archaic caution of that old time executive.
In many ways, today's record industry remains in a similar tug of war between labels and its rosters, but with the rise of independent entities, the lines are obviously being blurred more than ever before. And as this "jukebox musical" unfolded throughout the next 90 minutes, it was apparent just how influential Holly was in the equation behind the scenes and in front of the curtain (Weezer anyone?), despite dying much too soon. In fact, theatergoers were transported through his entire trip personal and musical trip, from the early Tex-Mex interpretation of "Flower of My Heart" to the breakthroughs "That'll Be the Day," "Peggy Sue" and "True Love Ways" (all delivered with dead on accuracy from actor/singer/guitarist Justin Berkobien).
Outside of Holly's most famous cuts, the musical encompasses other material from the time period, including The Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" and Ritchie Valens' signature "La Bamba." Of course, a recollection of those two artists (and frequent touring partners) would foreshadow that fateful "day the music died," though there were still plenty of performances from the headliner's glory years leading up towards that dour demise. "Not Fade Away" was a runaway highlight, which despite never charting as a Holly single, went on to be covered by the Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen and Rush (to name a handful). "Oh, Boy!" was another memorable classic that helped earned the headliner additional fame, which later found an entirely new audience via the Stray Cats.
Yet no matter how many tributes this qualified cast played to the one of the earliest guitar heroes, it couldn't pre-empt the inevitable reality of the plane crash that killed Holly, The Big Bopper and Valens. In presenting that tragedy (which is now amongst the genre's most legendary tales), it only fueled curiosity of how his artistry might have evolved in later career years. Rather than wrapping up on that somber note, the entire cast came back with Holly's upbeat take on Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," signifying that despite the tragic outcome, his personal legacy and rock n' roll as a whole is still alive and well.
"Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" runs through July 27 at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, IL. For additional information and tickets, log onto www.drurylaneoakbrook.com or www.ticketmaster.com.
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