Travel Blog

19 Jul

Buddy Holly Musical Returns to Vancouver

Photo credit: Tim Matheson courtesy of Arts Club Theatre

The world’s most successful rock ‘n’ roll musical is back in Vancouver. But is it still worth seeing?

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story starring Vancouver Island native Zachary Stevenson (a dead ringer for Holly – physically and vocally) is at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through Aug. 26.  This is a homecoming of sorts for the production, which had a very successful run in 2010.

The musical traces the meteoric ascent of Buddy Holly from goofy 19-year-old in glasses in Lubbock, Texas to global rockstar and heartthrob (albeit still in glasses).  It’s creatively narrated by a series of old-time radio DJs, who keep us up to speed on the ups and downs of Holly’s brief but tumultuous career.

While the story of Holly’s life and untimely death is well worn, Alan Janes ’1989 musical – which has played on Broadway and throughout the world – still entertains.  For starters, the tunes are catchy.  It’s hard to listen to Stevenson belt out That’ll Be the Day, Not Fade Away and Peggy Sue without tapping and clapping along.   The performance is a vivid reminder of how influential Holly was on future rock ‘n’ roll stars: from Keith Richards and his furious rhythm guitar to Bob Dylan and his lyricism.

The staging is also fresh and engaging.  Buddy and the other characters repeatedly break through the so-called “fourth wall.”  The audience at the musical becomes the audience at his concerts back in the day – singing and dancing along.  At times it’s unclear whether you’re watching Holly’s life story or participating in it.  This interactivity likely has a lot to do with the musical’s staying power.

Photo credit: Tim Matheson courtesy of Arts Club Theatre

Finally, Stevenson (who has made a career of playing dead rockers including Elvis and Hank Williams) is ably supported by a slew of local and Canadian talent.  Watch out for Kieran Murphy who puts his heart and soul into the role of Big Bopper (famous for the line, “Hello Baaaaaabbbby”) and Michael Antonakas, who steals a scene as Ritchie Valens singing La Bamba.

Two other local legends – singers Sibel Thrasher and Tom Pickett – contribute to what is easily the most entertaining scene in the musical.  Buddy Holly – who challenged racial politics in the 1950s by playing “black” music – is mistakenly booked into Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, an all-black venue at the time.  When Thrasher and Pickett – playing Apollo MCs – see him for the first time, they’re shocked that he’s not black and worried that their audience will eat him alive.   And when Buddy takes the stage, sparks do fly – but for unexpected reasons.

Buddy’s tunes do get a bit repetitive by the end of the second act, when he’s playing what will be his farewell show in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.  But there’s an inherent drama built into the story keeps us hanging to his every word: the reality that the clock is ticking away on his brief, brilliant career.

The Buddy Holly Story plays at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through Aug. 26.  Tickets start at $29.

Anybody see the Buddy Holly Musical at the Stanley?  What did you think? 

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