Maybe, Baby, Buddy Has Found New Groove in Chicago’s ‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story’

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HollywoodChicago.com Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 3.5/5.0
Play Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – “Wow! I feel like I’m at a rock concert!” “Me too. It’s like I want to rush the stage!”

While overhearing this conversation between two young women at the recent Chicago opening of “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” I realized there were no better words to sum up Drury Lane’s recent jukebox-blaring, toe-tapping homage to one of the greatest rock and rollers of all time.

After experiencing a vastly successful run at the Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace, producer Kyle DeSantis has ingeniously transferred this joyous and colorful piece to an intimate Chicago theatre where – judging by the audience response on opening night – it clearly has plans to bop to the top.

“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” chronicles the last three years in the life of the beloved musical prodigy from Lubbock, Texas.

Following Holly’s initial partnership with the Crickets to the young talent’s untimely and shocking death, the piece aims to take its audience on a narrative journey with such chart-topping hits as “Peggy Sue,” “That’ll Be The Day” and “Oh, Boy”.

Justin Berkobien stars as Buddy Holly in the Chicago musical Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at the Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place
Justin Berkobien in the Chicago musical “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” at the Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place.
Photo credit: Johnny Knight

But be forewarned: If you’re the kind of theatre lover who likes a balanced and medium-rare flavor to your jukebox musical, this one is sorely undercooked.

Whereas the writers of “Jersey Boys” and “Mamma Mia!” peppered their books with a modest yet satiating amount of dramatic texture, writers Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson of the original 1989 London conception tend to abandon their script at crucial moments.

Justin Berkobien in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story
Justin Berkobien in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story”.
Photo credit: Johnny Knight

They leave frustrating story voids and plaguing gaps. In terms of dramatic camber, watching “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” come to life on stage is about the equivalent of viewing a 10-minute snippet of Holly’s E! True Hollywood Story.

In order to placate an assumed audience thirst for more concert reenactments, it seems as though the book favors an unsatisfactory and watered-down version of what’s truly the remarkable story of the legendary career of a young artist. That’s a heavy disservice, too, as surely a musician of such influence warrants more from his biographers.

However, where “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” lacks in narrative arc development it overwhelmingly succeeds in providing its attendees with unapologetically empty and frivolous fun. Tammy Mader’s direction and choreography are sprite and alive with energy that truly permeates the entire house.

If you’re just looking for a fun show to dance with, sing to and cheer for, you’ve met your match. This is a piece that pulls out all the glottal stops.

That isn’t to say the more serious theatre folk won’t appreciate the appeal of this show as well. It’s quite the contrary. In seeing this piece, Chicago theatre fans have the unique opportunity to experience a remarkably talented young star in a breakout role.

As the musical’s title character, Justin Berkobien establishes himself as a formidable young talent. Masterfully balancing his own refreshing take on Holly’s spirit while still capturing the gawkiness that made the Texan musician such a marvel, Berkobien gives an unparalleled, triple-threat performance.

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It is the cast – led by Berkobien – who make this show a sweet treat. Aided by the talents of John Steven Crowley, Tony Sancho and Tempe Thomas, the level of musicianship these young performers collectively possess is nothing short of extraordinary. This cast alone warrants a trip out to the theatre.

If your heart isn’t racing after every number, you might want to check your pulse.

“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” runs through Nov. 2, 2008 at the Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place at 175 E. Chestnut St. in Chicago. The show runs Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $40 to $55. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit here or call 312-642-2000.


For a complete listing of all shows and reviews in Chicago, visit our partner TheatreInChicago.com. For half-price Chicago theater tickets, visit our partner Goldstar.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Alissa Norby

By ALISSA NORBY
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
alissa@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2008 Alissa Norby, HollywoodChicago.com

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