AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music and Lyrics by Buddy Holly
Book by Alan Janes
Directed by Stephen Moorer
Presented by Pacific Repertory Theatre
in association with San Jose Stage Company
Post Street Theatre
450 Post Street, San Francisco
(415) 321-2900

Reviewed by Judy Richter

It's a wonder that the Post Street Theatre (formerly Theatre on the Square) is still standing after all the cheering and stomping for "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story." This production by Pacific Repertory Theatre, in association with San Jose Stage Company, has been seen along the California coast since May 2003 and now has settled in for a commercial run in downtown San Francisco under the direction of Stephen Moorer.

With a book by Alan Janes and music and lyrics by Buddy Holly, the show traces the last three years of Buddy's life until he died in a plane crash in February 1959 at the age of 22. That same crash also killed J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson, Ritchie Valens and the pilot. With one memorable tune after another, "Buddy" shows how deeply Holly influenced popular music and makes one wonder what he would have accomplished if he had lived longer.

The story of Buddy's short but meteoric career starts in 1956 in Lubbock, Texas, where Buddy (Travis Poelle) and two pals, bassist Joe B. Mauldin (Luke Darnell) and drummer Jerry Allison (David Schulz), insist on playing their brand of rock on the country western radio station run by Hipockets Duncan (Tom Donald). Like many of his listeners, Hipockets disapproved of rock, saying it was "colored" music. Still, he was supportive and put them in touch with producer Norman Petty (Jesse Caldwell) in Clovis, N.M., where Buddy Holly and The Crickets recorded their first hit, "That'll Be the Day," shortly followed by "Peggy Sue." Act One ends with the three white guys making their debut at the famed Apollo Club in Harlem, where animosity and derision quickly change to enthusiastic cheers for these new wonders of rock.

Act Two starts slowly as it finds Buddy falling in love with and marrying Maria Elena (Lucinda Serrano), then going out on his own after Joe and Jerry split from him. Things pick up considerably when the scene shifts to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where Buddy, joined by Ritchie Valens (Davitt Felder) and Big Bopper (Scott Free), gave his final concert. For the last half-hour or so, the three of them raise the roof, Ritchie with "La Bamba," Bopper with "Chantilly Lace" and a string of Buddy Holly hits backed by vocalists and a big band. By the time the curtain goes down, people are dancing in the aisles.

Much of the credit for the success of this production is Poelle's knockout performance as Buddy. Poelle is a singing, guitar-playing dynamo. Felder at Ritchie Valens and Free as Big Bopper also help to bring down the house. All of the musicians, led by musical director Don Dally, who also plays the fourth Cricket, are outstanding. The juke box set by Jean-François Revon, '50s costumes by Tandy Messenger, lighting by Mark Gilmore, sound by Thomas R. Craft and choreography by Sheri Bouwens all make significant contributions.

Music is the bottom line, though. Poelle and company are masterful, leaving the audience, people of all ages, cheering and literally dancing in the aisles. It's just one terrific show.

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