This 1989 British creation, perhaps one of the first in the now inescapable wave of pop-star jukebox biographies on stage, offers a starkly mechanical retelling of events in Buddy Holly’s brief career. Don’t expect to learn much of anything about the inner life or influences of the bespectacled young Texan who cranked out an astonishing string of hits like “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll Be the Day” before he was killed at age 22 in the plane crash that also took the lives of Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.
Despite its title, Buddy—The Buddy Holly Story isn’t much interested in story—just the songs. Both acts, as arranged by writer Alan Janes, culminate in extended mini-concerts—the first depicting Holly and his bandmates in the Crickets making their debut at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, and the second the Clear Lake, Iowa show with Valens and the Big Bopper on the night before the day the music died.
But if you accept Buddy for what it is—a tribute-band concert with occasional book scenes and less depth than a Wikipedia entry—then Lili-Anne Brown’s production for American Blues Theater is as enjoyable as it could get. Brown’s cast is stacked with supremely talented actor-musicians (among them Alex Goodrich, Liz Chidester, Derek Hasenstab, Shaun Whitley, Kieran McCabe and music director Michael Mahler) who are more than capable of carrying out this hit parade.
And as the man behind the glasses, Zachary Stevenson is vocally spot-on and thoroughly charming. Though new to Chicago—this marks his stage debut in the city proper after understudying the suburban Paramount Theatre’s Million Dollar Quartet last fall—Stevenson has made a cottage industry of Buddy Holly, having led more than 10 productions of this show throughout the U.S. and his native Canada. And it’s frankly hard to imagine a better Buddy; Stevenson’s all-in performance will stick with you and not fade away.