Theater Review: The music rocks on in ‘Buddy’ at NCC
It wasn’t a long story. It covered a period of only a little more than 18 months, but it made up for its brevity with a blaze of musical genius that lives on 60 years later as a major influence on rock ‘n’ roll.
It is, of course, the Buddy Holly story retold on stage as “Buddy,” an exuberant musical through July 14, Northampton Community College Summer Theater.
The story begins in Lubbock, Texas, where 20-year-old Buddy Holly is starting out as a country-western singer. He’s not happy, though, ever since he discovered rock ‘n’ roll. He and his two friends, Joe and Jerry, start performing as The Crickets and sign a contract with innovative record producer Norman Petty (Dedrik Ramos).
Within hours of signing, Holly records “That’ll Be The Day.” Released in May 1957, the song soars to the top of the charts within weeks. The clock is ticking.
Director Bill Mutimer has once again demonstrated his love of all things musical, and his prowess with exuding every last ounce of high energy and enthusiasm out of his young casts.
In the case of “Buddy,” the task is even more challenging. Mutimer has only act one to tell most of the snippets of Holly’s life and burgeoning career and even then, everything is centered around the music: “Every Day,” “Shout,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy” and much more.
The second act is even lighter on acting than the first, requiring the cast and ensemble to be dancing, singing or playing instruments almost non-stop. In the opening night July 3 performance seen for this review, there were 44 actors on stage and in the aisles in almost perpetual motion during most of the act.
Starring as Buddy Holly, Matt McClure is dynamic at the mic, singing and playing the acoustic guitar. He has the largest speaking part, allowing him to give the audience a convincing glimpse of the somewhat shy, but determined young man with glasses who became an overnight music sensation.
Angelica Ramirez as Maria Elena Holly skillfully transitions her character from the bride proposed to and married in five hours to the fearful pregnant wife begging her husband not to fly on his concert tour. She brings the right touch of warmth and love to the role.
James Morogiello, playing the Lubbock radio announcer Hi Pockets Duncan, fills in the time gaps and keeps the audience up-to-speed on new developments. He provides the right balance of emotions in his encounters with Holly, and in his last announcement at the end of the show.
Others in the cast who make the most of their limited speaking roles are Jason William Steffen (Joe), Alex Crossland (Jerry) and Stephen Peters (guitarist). As Vi Petty, Larissa Klinger provides some needed sparkle to the New Mexico recording studio scene.
Apollo Theatre concert soloist Jalon Mathis and the eight Apollo singers make it hard for audience members to stay in their seats when they give out with “Shout ... You know you make me wanna (Shout!), Kick my heels up and (Shout!), Throw my hands up and (Shout!).” The dancing and clapping performers bring the audience into the act.
Music director Nicholas Conti and choreographer Cristina Sohns William deserve much of the credit for creating an evening of entertainment that reflects the joy, energy and spirit that was the era of rock ‘n’ roll.
The Big Bopper (Sam Kashefska) belts out his hit, “Chantilly Lace,” followed by Ritchie Valenz (Matias De La Flor) with “La Bamba.”
With “Johnny Be Goode,” the show reaches a crescendo until “… the music died” Feb. 3, 1959.
Tickets: Lipkin Theatre Box Office, Northampton Community College, Main Campus, 3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem Township; ncctix.org; 484-484-3412