Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

Oh, Boy!
The Lower Ossington Theatre’s Buddy hits all the right notes
by Stuart Munro
[This article has been corrected]

About a third of the way into the first act of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Buddy and the Crickets enter Norman Petty’s recording studio for a whirlwind recording session. At this point, what had started out as a slightly underpowered and oddly-paced production really finds its steam, and Buddy rocks on through the rest of the evening, giving the audience a night to remember.

Buddy tells the story of the rise to fame and sudden, tragic death of Buddy Holly. Using a catalogue of his music (including “Oh, Boy!,” “Peggy Sue,” “That’ll Be the Day,” and others), along with other late-50’s rock, the show whisks us through Buddy Holly’s all-too brief, two-year career. The plot is a bit thin – the focus is clearly on the music – but that’s really OK because, I’m happy to say, the LOT has finally started using live music in its productions! I suspect it’s just for this show, but it was very welcome.

Every person on stage inhabited their characters with conviction

The success of Buddy depends entirely on its leading man, and the Lower Ossington Theatre could not have done any better than they have with Eric Bleyendaal. Charming, slightly awkward, with a killer voice, excellent guitar skills, and enough personality to fill the entire stage, Bleyendaal carries this large effort squarely on his shoulders and never once buckles under the pressure of it. Even more amazingly, he is surrounded by a stellar supporting company, who all manage to rise to the same level as Bleyendaal. Naming everyone would be impossible, but Jonathan Widdifield as producer Norman Petty, Nathan Younger as the Big Bopper, and Stephanie Seaton as Buddy’s wife, Maria, all stand out.

Michael Galloro’s simple set is just a false proscenium, a few desks, a couch, and a platform for the drum kit, but manages to take us to all the various locations the show demands. Charles Roy’s direction was always well paced (the few awkward scene transitions in the first act aside), and Stephanie Ramphos’s high-energy choreography was wonderfully executed by the ensemble. A few minor things bothered me, namely the modern microphones, the intense volume, and the desks that looked like they were made in shop class. As well, Mikael Kangas’s lighting was a bit stark at times, leaving people in shadow occasionally. But given the high energy and commitment of the performances, these things were easy to overlook.

It really is the performances that make Buddy work. Every person on stage inhabited their characters with conviction, sometimes having to transform between characters in the blink of an eye. (I didn’t even realize Nathan Younger had been playing two parts until I saw the transition happen late in act II). More impressively, the entire company played their own instruments on stage, and the sound they created was extraordinary. The cast, along with music director Robert Wilkinson, deserve a lot of credit. Like I said above, Buddy is all about the music, and the half-hour concert that makes up the majority of Act II is more than enough reason to see the show. Overflowing with energy, Bleyendaal leads the entire company in one of the most joyful excuses for a party I’ve ever seen. Along with Younger as the Big Bopper, Justin Darmanin as Richie Valens, the company of back-singers, and four-piece brass section, this awesome finale is nothing short of pure, unbridled joy – I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a company have so much fun in a long time. Buddy is a fantastic and high-energy night out, and I’m thrilled to have been able to spend a night getting to know him better.

The Buddy Holly Story runs until April 21


  1. The Lower Ossington almost always uses live music...have you seen any of their other shows? Most of the time the band is on stage with the actors (Rocky Horror, RENT, and in the show of Ave Q that I saw the band popped out of the windows at the end for a bow).

    The band is my fav part of the LOT shows! Ridiculously talented musicians :D

  2. The article has been corrected. The Charlebois Post regrets the error.


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