The music of rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly is about to explode onto Sierra Repertory Theatre's East Sonora stage.
Featuring a dozen live musicians and jam-packed with vintage concert scenes, "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" kicks off Sierra Rep's 34th season on Saturday.
A worldwide smash, the show includes more than 20 of Holly's greatest hits, including "Peggy Sue," "That'll be the Day," "Oh Boy," "Rave On," and "Maybe Baby," plus feel-good hits by Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper and more.
More than a tribute show, "Buddy" brings to life the legacy of a skinny, young Texas boy who skyrocketed to world fame with a string of hits that changed the face of popular music.
When Holly and two fellow headliners died in a plane crash in the winter of 1959, a generation grieved. He was just 22, and now, more than 50 years later, audiences still recognize Holly's irresistible appeal.
"Buddy died so young, all we really have is his music, and it's amazing what he created in just those few short years," said SRT Artistic Director Scott Viets.
The Daily Telegraph called the play "an utter joy. You will leave with a smile on your face and a spring in your step."
"Forget about 'feel good,' 'Buddy' is feel-great," said the Vancouver Sun. "I doubt any audience can resist getting caught in rock 'n' roll fever."
The show starts with teenage Buddy and his two pals, the Crickets, performing on air at a small country music radio station on the outskirts of Lubbock, Texas.
When the trio suddenly drops the country twang and makes a surprise switch to one of Buddy's new songs, rock 'n' roll is on its way.
Parents were aghast, kids went crazy and after a bit of a rocky start, hits and fame followed in a frenzy. In just 12 months, Buddy Holly and the Crickets charted seven Top 40 singles, and suddenly, Holly's lanky look and his horn-rimmed glasses were the height of cool.
In "Buddy," director Scott Viets and his cast take audiences along for the short, intense ride, from the small-town recording studios where Buddy and the Crickets honed their sound, to their legendary appearance as the first white performers at New York City's Apollo Theater, and to Buddy's final concert with the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and a host of other headliners of the ill-fated Winter Dance Party at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.
Viewers get a taste of Holly's impetuous personality when he stubbornly refuses any intrusion on his style, breaks up with his band and instantly proposes to his young wife just a few hours after they meet.
But the show's primary focus is on the music - concert scenes are re-created with a full complement of trumpets, trombones, guitars, saxophone, drums, strings and back-up singers.
"We have some fantastic musicians and performers and we're creating a great party atmosphere," Viets said. "At the same time, it's a period piece, set in the mid-century era, and I'm excited to take audiences back to that time."
Kansas native Ralph Krumins stars in the title role, a part he has played in several productions around the country.
"This show is so much fun - by the end, everyone is on their feet," Krumins said. "It's pure energy."
A talented cast of musicians and singers play the other musicians, family and friends who collaborated with Holly in his short career.
Joining Krumins as the Crickets are Angels Camp bass player Alex "Skeez" Nava as Joe B. Maudlin and Columbia College freshman Joaquin David as drummer Jerry Allison.
Southern California musician Brendan Quirk plays Tommy Allsup, who joined the Crickets as lead guitarist.
SRT newcomer Roberto Araujo plays Ritchie Valens, Michael Misko (SRT's "Guys and Dolls") is the Big Bopper and Keith Beverly is the Apollo concert hall performer who helps Holly cross a race barrier at the renowned Harlem venue. All three have played these roles in past "Buddy" productions around the country.
Misko also plays Holly's producer, Norm Petty, who gave him free rein in his Texas recording studio.
MJ Jurgensen plays Norm's wife, Vi Petty, a versatile studio musician who joined in several Holly hits. SRT company actor Ty Smith is Buddy's hometown booster and radio host HiPockets and Ashley Flowers plays Buddy's young wife, Maria Elena.
Filling out the ensemble are Ashley Townsend, Sarah Sesler, Scott Nelson, Andy Merrill, Kayla Hart and Mike Fiore.
Viets is director and choreographer, and SRT's Mark Seiver is musical director with assistance from Jay David. Joining them are guest scenic designer Rand Enlow, guest costume designer Jose Rivera and lighting designer Christopher Van Tuyl.
SRT's Mercy Sharpe is props master, sound is by Ty Smith, and stage manager is Lia Metz.
"Buddy" is presented with the help of Black Oak Casino Resort and Clarke Broadcasting.
It plays through Sunday, April 21. Thursday and Friday performances begin at 7 p.m., Saturday evening performances are at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m.
Opening night Saturday is SRT's sold out gala, a special benefit performance that includes a pre-show reception, silent auction and dinner at the Sonora Elks Lodge, then a live auction and the opening night performance at the East Sonora stage.
For performance information or reservations, call SRT's box office at 532-3120, or visit the theater's website at www.sierrarep.org.