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REVIEW: Buddy Holly's memory will not fade away

Georgia native Matt McClure kicks the Winter Dance Party into high gear during #x201c;Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,#x201
Georgia native Matt McClure kicks the Winter Dance Party into high gear during “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” onstage through April 5 at the Old Creamery Theatre in Amana. (Matt McClure)

AMANA — Let’s hope the Old Creamery Theatre can continue to rave on for as long as possible with “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.”

The musical, slated through April 5, but now postponed to Sept. 25. to Oct. 4, gives audiences a fun diversion in a venue with stepped-up disinfecting measures and a ticketing cap of 250, to allow more space between patrons. About 100 people attended Friday night’s performance, and were greeted with a pungent, cleansing smell, hygiene signs and hand sanitizer stations.

The show is an upbeat slice of nostalgia, packed with high-energy rock ’n’ roll performed by top-notch singer/actor/instrumentalists. And even though Holly’s story tragically was cut short at age 22, the scene depicting the Winter Dance Party at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake had the audience on their feet, clapping, singing and dancing along.

A fitting tribute to the artists who died in the plane crash follows the concert scene, and then the mood kicks back up with an encore set. Viewers who linger after the applause fades away will hear “American Pie,” Don McLean’s homage to Holly, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and their pilot, killed shortly after takeoff in the early hours of Feb. 3, 1959, outside Clear Lake.

Another piece of “Pie” is hidden in plain sight: The notes on the music staff painted on the stage floor depict the song’s famous phrase, “the day the music died.”

The musical is full of life, however, tracing Holly’s rise to fame, from a “scandalous” live song played over the radio in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, to becoming rock royalty, scoring 10 hit records in 15 months with Decca Producer Norman Petty.

Georgia native Matt McClure embodies Holly completely, having honed his portrayal through 12 productions in five years. He also performs a ’50s tribute show titled “Buddy Returns!”

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He’s lean and lanky, nerdy and nervous, with guitar and vocal chops to pull off the speaking and singing styles that instantly transport the audience back in time. We also see Holly as headstrong with a quick temper when things don’t go his way, as well as impetuous as he takes life by the tail.

Equally charismatic are The Crickets — Kyle Milner as drummer Jerry Allison and Ben Sheppard as bass player Joe B. Mauldin. Sheppard turns his bass into a piece of playground equipment, playing it in the most impossible of ways, and Milner gets in plenty of fun licks as he works every angle to impress a girl.

Especially hilarious is the way they move from up-and-comers in rolled-up jeans in Act I to polished pros in Act II, before the cracks begin to show in their personal and professional lives together.

Other cast members play a variety of roles, from the women in their lives and in various groups to the men who would shepherd them, then morph into a tight ensemble for the Winter Dance Party.

Ryan Jagru is on fire as 17-year-old Ritchie Valens, tearing up the stage with hot dance moves on “La Bamba.” Jayson Elliott is hilarious and gregarious as J.P. Richardson Jr., The Big Bopper, 28, ripping through “Chantilly Lace.”

Special shout-outs go to Spiff Wiegand, who adds blistering tenor sax and trumpet to the Dance Party; DaNeisha Carr, who adds sass to her sashay as she sizes up Holly and The Crickets during their Apollo Theater concert in Harlem; Sophie Amelkin as a wary Vi Petty; and Lauren Cosio as Holly’s wife, Maria Elena. The ladies also add beautiful harmonies to mix.

Director Sean McCall guides his stellar cast through pages of history with equal parts triumph and tumult, set against Kent Reynolds’ whimsical scenery and Marquetta Senters’ snappy costumes.

Be sure to check Oldcreamery.com for the latest information on the status of upcoming performances.

• What: “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story”

• Where: Old Creamery Theatre, 39 38th Ave., Amana

• When: Postponed to Sept. 25 to Oct. 4; current ticket holders should call the box office, (319) 622-6262, to discuss their options. Any additional program or scheduling changes will be communicated via email, social media and online at Oldcreamery.com

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• Tickets: $32.50 adults, $20 students, Old Creamery Box Office, (319) 622-6262 or Oldcreamery.com

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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