Dick Baker as Buddy Holly. Photo: DDP

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

By Alan Janes

Music and Lyrics by Jerry Allison, Paul Anka, Chuck Berry, Robert Blackwell, Boudleaux Bryant, Felice Bryant, Charles Hardin, Buddy Holly, Kelly Isley, Ronald Isley, Rudolph Isley, Paul Jury, Morris Levy, Frankie Lymon, John Marascalco, Bob Montgomery, Norman Petty, J. P. Richardson, and Bill Tighman
Choreography by Heather Paige Folsom
Directed by Lee Buckholz

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2023, by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Buddy Holly was undeniably a legend. A songwriter and performer who had his own clear sound, he arguably could have become bigger than Elvis Presley if he hadn’t died tragically just a couple of years into his career.

Derby Dinner gives him an excellent tribute in their current production, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story. Narrated by the DJ who discovered him, Hipockets Duncan (played by the incomparable J.R. Stuart), the story is told through a series of rehearsals, recording sessions, and performances covering Holly’s rise to stardom.

The show is anchored by an absolutely stellar performance by Dick Baker as Buddy Holly. He plays guitar, acts, sings, and dances, frequently all at the same time, and inhabits the role seamlessly. It’s an amazing transformation and he justifiably carries the show.

Along the way there are some other highlighted performances, most notably Robert Sharkey and Paul McElroy as The Big Bopper and Richie Valens, respectively, each giving two other singing legends big renditions of their most popular hits. Elizabeth Loos steals scenes right and left as different characters, particularly hilarious as a showgirl dressed as the Statue of Liberty who can’t stay on mic singing the National Anthem.

The script is a bit flawed, as it begins with the aftermath of the plane crash that took Holly’s life and thus casts a bit of melancholy over what is mostly a joyful story until its tragic end. But I guess that’s like being shocked when the ship sinks in Titanic so that’s really a minor quibble.

Lee Buckholz’s sure direction keeps things lively and exciting, but his set design is a bit bland for such a showy production. Heather Paige Fulsom’s choreography lovingly captures the spirit of rock and roll groups from the fifties.

The game supporting cast makes for a rollicking good time. And even with a downer ending, the show sends you out on a positive note with a couple more rocking musical numbers, reminding us that Buddy may be gone, but his spirit lives on.

Featuring Dick Baker, Scott Bradley, Brandi Hill, Alex Hunt, Stephanie Inglese, Elizabeth Loos, Paul McElroy, Tony Reimonienq III, Robert Sharkey, J.R. Stuart, and Shannon Vetter.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

August 11 – September 24, 2023

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN  47129

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.