MANCHESTER, NH — There’s a lot to unpack in the story of singer/songwriter Buddy Holly, a charismatic crooner whose meteoric rise to stardom ended with a plane crash in 1959. But everything that happened before “the day the music died” is the focus of this music-driven musical tribute to Holly, and the Palace Theatre has staged a high-energy production, which tells the brief but incredible story of Holly’s life, influences and incredible success.
Just 22 when he died in the fiery crash that also claimed the lives of his contemporaries Ritchie Valens, and JP Richardson, aka “The Big Bopper,” Buddy Holly’s indelible contribution to rock music is hard to wrap one’s head around, says cast member Matt McClure.
“It’s crazy, his whole rise to fame was over an 18-month period, but the show allows you to see how much music he made in that short amount of time. The songs we cover are the big hits everybody knows, but there were so many songs Buddy wrote over the course of his career, like during his country phase, which people don’t even know are out there,” says McClure, who plays Tommy Allsup, the “fourth Cricket.”
It’s a role that allows him to also portray some of the other musicians who traveled in and out of Holly’s life.
“Tommy also wrote the solo in “Heartbeat.” It’s fun to play someone who created more of the significant licks and guitar solos,” McClure says.
When you mount a show like The Buddy Holly Story, actors need to have more than solid acting chops and golden pipes — in fact, it’s not even enough to throw in some dance moves and be a triple threat, says Jill Pennington, who plays Vi Petty, wife of Buddy Holly’s producer, Norm Petty.
“For this show, you have to be a quadruple threat — it takes singing, dancing, acting, and playing the music,” says Pennington.
“It’s musical theater at its finest,” adds Brian Templeton, who plays Joe B. Mauldin, bassist for the Crickets. A talented multi-instrument musician in his own right, Templeton says there’s something exhilarating about actually playing the music for the show.
“We can make mistakes and recover just like a live band, but it’s a great feeling. Remember, we’re not a traveling band. We’re brought together as a cast and then we learn to be a band together, which is quite a unique experience.”
Mauldin primarily played upright bass, and Templeton has fun with it on stage.
“In those days and during that era, the upright bass was used in rockabilly and was mostly flat bass, but if you look at how it was used in Buddy Holly’s music, we get to play with it a little, which makes it a lot of fun to play,” Templeton says. “If you do research on him, you’ll find that, unlike Buddy, there’s not a lot of historical information available on Joe which means I can put a lot of myself into the character – I can even turn myself into Meryl Haggard, if we were being realistic, because he was Buddy Holly’s electric bass player.”
Because the show is steeped in musical history, it not only entertains, but enlightens, says McClure.
“That is one thing the show does really well, it surprised the audience with songs like “That will be the day,” where you see it created in the studio as Buddy adds each element to the song,” McClure says. The best way to put it they’re laid out really well in the story and the last 30 minutes is just a huge concert, we’re all playing live, with the singers and backup singers.”
With more than two-dozen hits included in the show, it’s impossible to deny Holly’s talent.
“He accomplished so much in such a short period of time, it’s almost like he knew he had to,” says Templeton. “He was driven.”
“He certainly was driven – he was an innovator and so creative,” she says.
Although his tragic death is acknowledged in the show it’s done in an “appropriate and sentimental way.”
“In this show what you really see is the balance of a genius with a kid. He was still being reminded by his mom to eat, and was getting caught up with girls,” Pennington says. “People will enjoy the show from a musical and historical perspective, but also they’ll learn about his personality. He was a bigger-than-life figure in personal way.”
The Palace Theatre is located at 80 Hanover Street. Tickets available: Adults: $39-46 Children (6-12): $25. Purchase tickets online or by calling the Palace box office at (603) 668-5588.
Remaining show dates and times
Friday June 14, 2019, 7:30 PM
Saturday June 15, 2019, 7:30 PM
Saturday June 15, 2019, 2:00 PM
Sunday June 16, 2019, 2:00 PM
Thursday June 20, 2019, 7:30 PM
Friday June 21, 2019, 7:30 PM
Saturday June 22, 2019, 7:30 PM
Saturday June 22, 2019, 2:00 PM
Sunday June 23, 2019, 12:00 PM
Sunday June 23, 2019 5:00 PM