Jan 20, 2020
by Jeanie K. Smith , San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
If you love the music of Buddy Holly, you’ll love this musical biography. If you’re one of the rare people who knows nothing about the iconic rock star whose work influenced countless others and changed the face of rock’n’roll forever, you’ll still love this tribute, if you’re ready to party on with a whole theatre full of happy people, Kyle Jurassic is the real deal as Holly, definitely a Don’t Miss performance. Get your tickets now, as the show is sure to sell out its limited run through February 16.
As stage biographies go, this one is fairly accurate and complete, detailing Holly’s career from his beginnings in country music all the way to the Winter Dance Concert tour that ended tragically for Holly and his fellow performers The Big Bopper (Seth Dahlgren) and Richie Valens (Marc Assad). The dialogue in act one can sound dated and cheesy, and secondary characters sometimes come across as caricatures, but the music quality can’t be denied and Jurassic’s performance is remarkable. Act two becomes a force unto itself, and is worth the price of admission.
Jurassic has played Holly in numerous productions across the country and he’s nearly a carbon copy of the much-loved immortal of rock history. He’s got the look, the moves, and the guitar chops to bring the larger-than-life legend to the stage as if we’re time traveling. He’s ably assisted by excellent musicians playing Holly’s original band The Crickets, with Nick Ambrosino as drummer Jerry Allison, Engin Yeᶊilyemiᶊ as Joe B. Mauldin on bass, and Steve Lasiter as the late addition to the band on second guitar. Holly’s band configuration became the standard for rock and is still copied today.
Holly changed his band before the Winter Dance Concert tour, but that makes no difference to the superb treat of the staged concert, when the entire ensemble takes part in a tribute extravaganza. The “day the music died” is handled tastefully, emphasizing the tremendous loss of young Holly, who was only 22 in 1959. Even though he topped the charts for a scant two years, Holly’s prolific song-writing and penchant for recording enabled his record label to continue releasing his work for another ten years, cementing his throne as a pioneer and innovator of rock.
The ensemble performs capably, adding backup vocals, the real people in Holly’s rise to the top, and all the admirable musical talent. All play multiple roles, taking on many wigs and costumes along the way. Standouts include Serena Elize Flores as an Apollo Theatre diva and backup vocalist, Charlie Whitaker as Holly’s wife, and Clay Xavier on saxophone. It’s a logistical achievement for director/choreographer DJ Salisbury, who has directed seven previous productions of the show and knows how to keep it moving and shaking.
Music supervisor John Banister also plays studio recorder Norman Petty who gives Holly his first big break. Scenic design by Jason Jamerson creates numerous locales with few set pieces, pulling out all the stops for the finale. Special kudos to Jeanine Gray on costumes and Roxie Johnson on hair and makeup, for the dozens of changes, wigs and outfits the actors go through, all looking authentically late 1950s. Sound balance occasionally feels off in the finale — the orchestra threatens to drown out even Holly — but is otherwise good.
Catch this one before it flies away — truly a feel-great, one-of-a-kind performance.
N.B.: Running time is 2.5 hours but doesn’t feel like it.
By Alan Janes. Presented by 6th Street Playhouse
Through February 16, 2020
Thu/Fri/Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Tickets: $35-$48; Senior, Under-30, and Group discounts
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