‘Buddy’ at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope shakes the rafters with rock n’ roll

(L to R) Matt Cusack, Andy Christopher, Zach Cossman and Maximilian Sangerman (Photo: Mark Garvin)

By John Dwyer

One of the most iconic powerful cultural statements: “The day the music died.”

This reference from Don McLean’s “American Pie” referred to the untimely death “when February made me shiver, with every paper I delivered.” It was when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson (a.k.a. “The Big Bopper”) died in a plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959. The song that detailed “the 10 years we’ve been on our own” came out in 1971, and chronicled the loss of American innocence.

But on Feb. 8 of this year, there has been a resurrection. The Bucks County Playhouse has brought back “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” with some new cast members and it is rocking the house again with a joyful sound. Can I get an “Amen!?”

Knowing its audience, the Playhouse has tried various other shows to appeal to this demographic that loves rock and roll. It has done so with varying success, after the huge success of this show, both critically and box office-wise, when it first produced back in June 2016.

Hunter Foster is again at the helm, directing with a relatively new cast. There are some who were in the original and its revivals, but many, including the lead of Buddy Holly, are fresh to their roles. And that is good. There is an excitement that comes with a little bit of uncertainty and being early in a run or process. Rock and Roll, especially, is best served fresh and it is fresh and exciting indeed with Andy Christopher as the idealistic, skinny and bespectacled rocker, Buddy Holly.

Andy Christopher as Buddy Holly (Photo: Mark Garvin)

Hipockets Duncan, the disc jockey who pushed Charles Hardin (“Buddy”) Holly at the beginning of his career, is played with Texan charm by Ryan Halsaver. Sky Seals, who was so wonderful as Johnny Cash in last season’s “Million Dollar Quartet,” plays record producer Norm Petty, as well as band member Murray Deutche. Seals is a fine actor and a great musician.

Two things make this show an extraordinary experience: 1) The tightening up of the story line and the direction of Hunter Foster, and 2) the exceptional abilities of this very strong cast. To act and sing is one thing, but to have the musicianship to make us believe you are Buddy Holly’s band “The Crickets” means that you are experiencing something very special. The energy that comes off this stage, when they are really jamming, is enough to be the backup for a town power outage. There is an unmistakable joy and it is delicious.

We have Zach Cossman as Jerry Allison on drums, Matt Cusack as Joe B. Mauldin on bass, and Maximilian Sangerman as Tommy Allsup, playing guitar and trumpet. Skye Seals is on guitar and Brittany Brook Elizabeth (Vi Petty and MD Associate) is on piano.  There are 27 songs that are performed by the group including “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Johnny Be Good,” “It’s So Easy,” “Everyday, “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens (Gilbert D Sanchez), and “Chantilly Lace” by the Big Bopper (Adam McDowell).

From the original cast, we have the extraordinary Brandi Chavonne Massey, who as a performer at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, tears up the stage with the heart throbbing, pulsating, energy driven “Shout.” Diva is a word that will come to mind after hearing this powerhouse.

We also have the pleasure of Natalie Grace Ortega as Buddy’s wife, Maria Elena. Ortega is a fine actress, whose performance is even more meaningful in a current era of racial and ethnic strife, which “Buddy” touches on when the all-white band plays the Apollo and when Buddy marries a Latina.

“Buddy Holly” is always relevant musically but, in regards to living the American Dream, realizing your aspirations, being inspirational and trying to get beyond race and ethnicity, it is now more needed to see and hear than before.

The show runs through March 3, and tickets are available online.

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