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Lyric stages 'The Buddy Holly Story,' a musical of rock 'n' roll hits and talent taken too soon



Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story
8 p.m. today-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday
Lyric Theatre
Civic Center Musical Hall
201 N. Walker

Lyric Theatre closes out its season with a rocking production of the musical "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story."

Director DJ Salsbury said the piece taps into the legend that surrounds artists who burn brightly, but die well before their talent dimmed.

"The story of Buddy Holly is one that fascinates people, because of his meteoric rise in music in the early days of rock 'n' roll," he said. "One can't help but wonder what Buddy might have gone on to produce musically, since he had so many hits in such a short time."

Act 1 of "Buddy" follows Holly's rise to fame, while Act 2 recreates his final concert on Feb. 2, 1959, at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Lyric's musical features more than 20 songs, including "Peggy Sue," "That'll Be the Day" and "Oh Boy!"

This is Salsbury's second show at Lyric, having directed and choreographed the 2008 production of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." His other credits include regional and national performances of "The Will Rogers Follies," "Nunsense" and "The Full Monty."

"I am so grateful for the well-oiled machine that is Lyric Theatre," Salsbury said. "It is not always the case that I walk into a directing gig and immediately feel as if I'm completely set up to succeed."

Buddy is played by Ben Hope, whose previous roles include Hank Williams in "Hank Williams: Lost Highway" and a young Johnny Cash in "Ring of Fire."

"Doing Buddy is very exciting for me, partly because of his influence and partly because of his exuberance," Hope said. "I've been doing what some folks call 'guitar theater' for a couple of years now, and I do find that it allows me to play out some of my rock-star fantasies."

When working with the cast, Salsbury said he encouraged the actors to steer away from impersonations, since many characters are based on real people. He instead asked them to focus on playing to the reality of the scenes by bringing them to life as human beings, rather than just as musical icons.

Hope said he has an intimate connection to the roles he plays, although he doesn't claim to be an expert on the characters.

"This is not the real Buddy Holly or Hank Williams, but them as seen through a Ben Hope filter," he said.

For him, it's the tender side of Holly that is most special for him to portray.

"Here's a kid who knew how he wanted things to be and how to rock, but even in his loudest, most rockabilly moments, there's a Buddy that is so sweet," he said. "I think it's these moments that will be fun to highlight for an audience, and fun for me to explore."

Hope said the Civic Center Music Hall is a "perfect venue" for the musical, which he hopes will come across as a huge rock concert.

"I am thrilled to get in there and rock 'n' roll it," he said.

Similarly, Salsbury hopes that the audience is swept away to the point of dancing in the aisles.

"'Buddy' is a show that truly bridges the gap between theatrical performance and participatory concert event," he said. "Buddy's music absolutely defines feel-good rock 'n' roll, so everyone should don a pair of saddle shoes and bring their best Mashed Potato, Madison, hand jive, jitterbug and Lindy Hop to the theater!"

photo Eric Scott Anthony, Ben Hope and Kyle Lacy star in "Buddy."

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