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Review: Buddy Holly story makes magic at the Mayfield

Buddy is back! A perennial favourite comes back to the Mayfield Dinner Theatre for a high-energy run through the holiday season.

The Buddy Holly story is a no-brainer for the Mayfield Dinner Theatre: a guaranteed crowd-pleasing musical review of the beloved 50s rock 'n' roll icon's life and music. It's a perfect choice for a holiday show (running through January 23, 2022), when office Christmas get-togethers or family outings will bring groups to the theatre for a toe-tapping, high-energy evening. And that they will get.

The last half hour of the two-act show is reason enough to buy a ticket. Over a dozen talented singers/musicians/actors take command of the stage for a recreation of the 'Winter Dance Party', a full-blown concert that turned out to be the final one given by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens (La Bamba), and The Big Bopper, (J.P. Richardson) in Clear Lake, Iowa in February, 1959.  All three died in a tragic plane crash following that show on what became known as 'the day the music died'.

Perhaps knowing that tragic outcome heightens the intensity of the show for audiences; or maybe it's just the energy coming from the stage: whichever the case, it's an exhilarating climax and showcase for a multi-talented cast of actors and music-makers.

Leading the pack is Tyler Check, who does a great turn as Buddy Holly. The Kingston, Ont. native is most often low-key and soft-spoken in his incarnation of the 20-year-old Texan, effective in scenes with his bandmates, The Crickets, in their quest for a recording contract, and with Nayeli Abrego's Maria Elena, who Holly married after a whirlwind courtship.

Check is a gifted actor, singer and player, coming to life in a more energized way while embodying Holly's geeky look and talent via rockabilly numbers like Peggy Sue, That'll Be The Day, Maybe Baby and Everyday. He even does a nifty trick playing lead guitar behind his head at one point--what can't this man do?

Mayfield Artistic Director Van Wilmott secured a cross-Canada cast who play multiple roles on multiple instruments. The Crickets (Alex Panneton on drums, (he's also Ritchie Valens) bassist Evan Stewart and John Banister (the show's musical director) are bang on and integral to telling the story of Holly's rise to fame. Indeed, Holly is given credit in establishing the traditional rock 'n' roll band lineup of drum, bass and two guitars, and these fellows have fun with it all, especially Stewart, who occasionally even climbs on top of and under the hefty double bass as he plays.

Those highlighted in the scene when Holly and the Crickets performed at The Apollo Theatre in Harlem, NYC (especially Michael Clarke and Celeste Catena) up the energy, and it builds from there, to the final concert showcase which, on opening night, rightly brought the crowd to its feet.

One can't ever forget the draw of the buffet for Mayfield patrons. Yes, the deliciious prime rib and yorkshire pudding are here; so too is the rice pudding and a wide enough selection of salad, entree and desserts to satisfy all--don't miss the gingerbread cake! Hand sanitizer, disposable gloves and safely-spaced buffet stations make the whole experience feel as safe as can be as the Mayfield gears back up to a full season.

It feels like The Buddy Holly Story is brought to town regularly, but it's been nine years since Edmonton audiences have enjoyed this production. Hearing the horns, keyboard solos, and the terrific vocals and harmonies in such large numbers is a reminder of pre-pandemic stage fun. And what fun it is.

In addition to 7:30 p.m. shows, there are regular Wednesday matinee performances through the run. See mayfieldtheatre.ca for information and to buy tickets.