There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world and those who know better. Life is more shades of grey than black and white, so investigation and elucidation of at least a ternary nature are nearly always required to even begin to make heads or tails of it.
For instance, it might be tempting to think that Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story would appeal only to fans of Buddy Holly’s music and leave everyone else saying, “Mailman, bring me no more tears.” The reality is much more nuanced. Some ardent Buddy Holly fans will savor a retelling of Holly’s meteoric rise to fame and sudden, tragic death filled end-to-end with his most famous tunes. Others may bridle at an imposter mocking their fallen idol.
For those unfamiliar with Buddy or his legacy, Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story may whet an appetite for not just Holly, the man, or his discography but his significant impact on music in general. It could provide some educational musical history. I, for one, never realized that “Not Fade Away,” made popular by the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones, was written and first performed by Holly himself.
To a less interested or unsympathetic ticket holder, the show could come off as hopelessly outdated or even naive. A musician might marvel at professional actors — rather than professional musicians — playing all of the show’s music live or might cringe at the missed notes, imperfect harmonies or faltering transitions.
Truly, more than most other biographically based live performances, Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story is a theatrical Rorschach test. Viewers’ reactions to it will depend less on what happens on stage and more on what background and orientation each audience member carries into the theater.
Far less subjective is the level of achievement of the BDT Stage cast and crew. The set, by Amy Campion, features a beautiful Wurlitzer-style jukebox backdrop. As Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story is a jukebox musical, the design choice wonderfully and winkingly frames the action. Campion’s set is deceptively complex with many revolving and moving parts that minimize scene-change times.
Brett Ambler, a BDT regular, plays Buddy Holly. Beyond Holly’s signature hairdo and thick-framed glasses, Ambler bears an uncanny resemblance to Holly, especially when he smiles. In addition to nailing Holly’s look, Ambler lets a hint of Texas twang peek around the edges of his lines, and he does an excellent job communicating a wide range of emotions, from the frustration Holly felt being pigeonholed early in his career to the joy of becoming an international sensation to the anger at bandmates Joe B. Mauldin (Brian Jackson) and Jerry Allison (Matt Gnojek) when they cut Holly loose.
Jackson, another BDT Stage mainstay, plays Mauldin with his usual light touch and is, as always, well in command of himself and the material. Gnojek, who is making his BDT Stage debut, holds his own with Ambler and Jackson and delivers some of the shows funnier lines. You may not know that the iconic song “Peggy Sue” was originally titled and about “Cindy Lou.” I certainly didn’t. Allison was central to the name change, and Gnojek has a ball with that scene in particular.
Though the three leads play their own instruments, they are assisted and supplemented throughout the show by the BDT Stage orchestra, a group of extremely talented musicians that often go unrecognized. They are Neal Dunfee, Jon Stubs, Dave DeMichelis, Matt Burchard, Otto Lee, Rob Reynolds, Rich Duston, Michael Hilton, Gail Harris, Carlton Bacon and Dillon Kidd. Toward the end of the second act, they get to take the stage, and it’s great to see them front and center for a change.
Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story is basically all of Buddy Holly’s biggest hits, along with a few lesserknown and contemporary numbers, broken up occasionally by scenes of momentous events in the man’s life. It sounds simple enough, but there is more going on than it seems, and director Wayne Kennedy keeps all the players on the same beat.
Whether you consider yourself a Holly Head or the only Buddy Holly reference you know is from the Weezer song (“Oo-ee-oo I look just like Buddy Holly; Oh-oh, and you’re Mary Tyler Moore”), what you get out of Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story will depend mostly on what you bring into it.
ON THE BILL: Buddy–The Buddy Holly Story. BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., boulder, 303-449-6000. Through Nov. 14. Tickets at bdtstage.com, $39 and up.