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The Buddy Holly Story at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre

Expect great music — if not great theater

Buddy Holly was a remarkable music innovator; he heard disparate influences and blended them to expand the limits of the newly named rock and roll musical genre. He was so remarkable that his short three-year career and his short 22-year life span are both still being celebrated and appreciated today, 51 years after his death in a plane crash.

The comet-like trajectory of Buddy Holly’s life deserves an equally intense and glowing theatrical presentation. I’m sorry to say that Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story falls far short. The script, by Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson, progresses like a trite television bio-pic, falling from one major moment in Holly’s life to another with little interpretation or meaning. The many scene locations also feel like a television script. Creating upward of seven locations as diverse as a New York City apartment and a Texas dance hall is a big challenge for a local theater company.

I found the most egregious example of the television script sensibility in the recording studio. As inspiration hits Holly for a song, you hear the first few lines of one of his well-known songs … which then fades out for a second inspiration to hit and a second song’s first few lines. This scenario repeats several times. In film, we’d see a musical montage of many of Holly’s greatest hits. In the theater, it’s frustrating to be set up to hear a favorite Holly song, only to have it fade out.

Intense love of Buddy Holly’s music can be the only reason why Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre chose The Buddy Holly Story. The static direction, by Melissa Huston, and the bland set, by Bob Rude, do nothing to help.

There is, however, a flip side to this show: Holly’s music. Daniel C. Jackson’s performance as Holly and a cast of remarkable musicians bring the music to life.

Jackson came to Annapolis from Birmingham, Alabama to reprise this role. He has the youth and intensity to carry the role, plus the musical chops and acting nuances to bring Buddy to life. The other musicians, under the direction of Ken Kimble, provide great believable intensity as Holly’s band, The Crickets, as well as recreating a 1950s’ country band and a swing big band. The electric guitarist in the final scene is as electrifying as his instrument.

Other stand-out actors are Christina Carlucci as Maria Elena and Travis Hurley as Norman Petty. Vocally the standouts are Tobias Young and Emily L. Sergo, whose big voices and compelling stage presence are a pleasure to hear and watch.

Expect great music, if not great theatre. Sitting under the stars on a summer night to hear Buddy Holly’s wonderful music brought to life by good musicians makes a trip to Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story worthwhile.

Stage manager: Mackenzie Blad. Costume Designer: Sarah Kendrick. Lighting designer: Nathan Hawkins.

Playing thru Sept. 5 at 8:30pm Th-Su outdoors at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $18: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.