Credit: Michael Brosilow

It’s not hard to see why Alan Janes’s 1989 jukebox musical charting the
rapid rise and early death of seminal rock and roller Buddy Holly ran in
London’s West End for 14 years or why it has been produced all over the
world. The show really rocks. Holly’s high-spirited tunes are featured
front and center, and if the band is even half good, it sells the show.

The cast of talented actor-musicians assembled for American Blues Theater’s
current revival is sharp and energetic. As Holly, Zachary Stevenson is
utterly believable. But then he’d better be. According to the program, he
has played Holly in more than ten other productions of this show. At
intermission, you can even buy CDs of him performing rock ‘n’ roll classics
by Holly and others.

In contrast, the nonmusical portions of the show, in which Janes tells
Holly’s story, are minimalist and often devoid of surprise or nuance. Janes
fills his script with lots of standard rock-star tropes (example: stodgy,
stick-in-the-mud record producer proclaims the artist’s songs are crap;
younger, hipper producer takes the same songs and turns them into gold). If
you know anything about Holly’s short life, you know the story. Jones also
soft-pedals the seamier sides of the music industry (racism, economic
exploitation of artists) or overlooks them entirely. The sole exception,
Holly’s triumphant color-line-busting performance at Harlem’s Apollo
Theater, feels a little cringy, less like history and more like an
evocation of a white performer’s ultimate wet dream.   v