You already know The Buddy Holly Story | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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You already know The Buddy Holly Story

But Zachary Stevenson rocks that guitar and glasses like a pro.


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It's not hard to see why Alan Janes's 1989 jukebox musical charting the rapid rise and early death of seminal rock and roller Buddy Holly ran in London's West End for 14 years or why it has been produced all over the world. The show really rocks. Holly's high-spirited tunes are featured front and center, and if the band is even half good, it sells the show.

The cast of talented actor-musicians assembled for American Blues Theater's current revival is sharp and energetic. As Holly, Zachary Stevenson is utterly believable. But then he'd better be. According to the program, he has played Holly in more than ten other productions of this show. At intermission, you can even buy CDs of him performing rock 'n' roll classics by Holly and others.

In contrast, the nonmusical portions of the show, in which Janes tells Holly's story, are minimalist and often devoid of surprise or nuance. Janes fills his script with lots of standard rock-star tropes (example: stodgy, stick-in-the-mud record producer proclaims the artist's songs are crap; younger, hipper producer takes the same songs and turns them into gold). If you know anything about Holly's short life, you know the story. Jones also soft-pedals the seamier sides of the music industry (racism, economic exploitation of artists) or overlooks them entirely. The sole exception, Holly's triumphant color-line-busting performance at Harlem's Apollo Theater, feels a little cringy, less like history and more like an evocation of a white performer's ultimate wet dream.   v

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