Buddy Holly’s time in the spotlight was brief. Born in Lubbock, Tex., in 1936, Holly was a gawky 20-year-old when he released his first single, That’ll Be the Day. Two years later, after recording such hits as Maybe Baby and Peggy Sue, the superstar died in a plane crash, along with singers Ritchie Valens and Jiles Richardson, better known as the Big Bopper. Now, Holly’s meteoric rise is the subject of an ambitious musical that premiered last October in London and opened in a separate production at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre on June 16. Buddy garnered rave reviews at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre, where it continues to play. And in October, after a 12-week Toronto run and brief stints in Calgary and San Francisco, the North American version is scheduled to open at Broadway’s famed Schubert Theatre. Said London-based Robert Bettinson, who directed Buddy in both Britain and Canada: “We hope that the Toronto production will become
the definitive version, with a long-term home on Broadway.”
When Bettinson held auditions for the North American Buddy last January in Toronto and New York City, more than 800 actors tried out for 25 parts. According to the show’s coproducers, London’s Paul Elliott and Toronto’s David Mirvish, that surfeit of talent convinced them to revise the musical in order to accommodate more performers. Among the innovations in the Toronto version: a trio of black female singers including Canadians Sandra Caldwell, Lorraine Scott and Denese Matthews, who play a group that precedes Holly onstage at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre.
The cast is about half American, including Paul Hipp, who returns in the title role for which he won praise in London. The show’s Canadian stars include Toronto’s David Mucci, who played the student revolutionary Enjolras in the Royal Alexandra’s recent production of Les Miserables. For his role as the flamboyant Big Bopper, Mucci, 29, had to have his long hair snipped to a 1950s crew cut. The tenor also had to learn how to belt out the Bopper’s hit, Chantilly Lace. “If this had all started on Broadway, rather than Toronto, we would never have been considered,” said Mucci. “That’s what makes it all so exciting.” For Mucci and his fellow Canadians in the cast, Buddy’s tour is an opportunity to show the Great White Way that the Great White North knows how to rock.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.