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Theater review: 'Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story' at La Mirada Theatre

April 26, 2010 | 12:22 pm
One thing to be said about the jukebox musical "Buddy" is that it tends to understand that the audience came through the doors to hear Buddy Holly's music, not scripted blather. So even though it tries our patience with a flabby, truncated retelling of Holly's life story, it knows enough to shut up at the ends of both acts and give way to re-creations of key concerts in Holly's career.

Seen many times locally, the musical, which took off in London in 1989, further benefits from the terrific talent assembled on stage and behind the scenes for its presentation in the McCoy Rigby Entertainment series at La Mirada Theatre. When the show culminates in the Feb. 2, 1959, concert that Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper performed before their fatal plane ride, the cast melds into a hard-charging rock 'n' roll band for a display of multiple talents that makes the multitasking casts of John Doyle's Sondheim musicals seem like slackers.

The show charts the three years that took Holly to his heights of fame and influence before his death at age 22. Except for unavoidable lags in the jokey, thinly dramatized scripted scenes, director Glenn Casale and musical director Darryl Archibald keep the show and its 28 songs ripping along on a set framed by sepia-toned publicity photos of the era's musicians and actors (design by John Iacovelli), beneath pulsing concert lighting (by Steven Young).  

Singer-guitarist Brandon Albright delivers a fair approximation of Holly's hiccuping vocals. The songs -- which, of course, include "Peggy Sue," "Oh, Boy!" and "Rave On" -- may not always exactly re-create the recordings we know so well, but the music is approached with respect and played for all-out fun. So much so that Omar D. Brancato, playing a tall, upright bass, very nearly steals the show every time he spins his instrument like a top or leans it onto its side and steps into its notch for his next attack on its strings. The songs transport us back to when music truly rock 'n' rolled, its rhythms dipping and swaying. Give in and roll right along.

-- Daryl H. Miller

"Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends May 2. $35 to $50. (562) 944-9801 or www.lamiradatheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
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