BUDDY…THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, at the Apollo Theater Center. Well…all right. Alan Janes’s rocking retrospective was a hit five years ago when this blast from the past played at both the Shubert and Pegasus. And lightning just struck thrice. San Diego Repertory Theatre’s surefire revival tells the 18-month saga of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Buddy Holly, from his balladeering beginnings in Lubbock, Texas, to the fateful gig in Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 3, 1959, after which Buddy, Ritchie (“La Bamba”) Valens, J.R. (“Chantilly Lace”) Richardson (aka the Big Bopper), and the pilot died in a plane crash.
Buddy conjures up the easily upset Eisenhower era, when rock ‘n’ roll triggered a culture clash. Holly had to overcome both the pressure to stick to safe country-western rhythms and the bias against “Negro music,” from which he borrowed. As if he knew how little time he had, Buddy and his short-lived Crickets stubbornly poured pure youth and corny lyrics into the bouncy beat of such tunes as “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.” These southern white boys even wowed ’em at Harlem’s Apollo.
Sam Woodhouse’s feel-good staging has talent to spare, but its heart is John Mueller as Buddy: he captures the Texas beanpole’s geeky charm, reedy drawl, and gutsiness. Gems like “It’s So Easy,” “Oh Boy,” and “Johnny B. Goode” make 40 years fade in a flash. A fave rave goes to Fernando Flores Vega’s torrid Valens, Paul James Kruse’s sap-happy Big Bopper, and J. Michael Ross’s deeply Texan narrator. –Lawrence Bommer