It’s impossible not to wonder if “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” would have been written had the eponymous rock-and-roller not died such a tragic and premature death in a plane crash nearly fifty years ago. Because, as Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre’s production of co-authors Alan Janes and Rob Bettison’s 1989 musical bio-drama proves, Holly’s death seems to have been the dramatic highlight of an otherwise un-dramatic life and musical career: Holly gets dropped by his label; Holly resists musical assimilation; Holly has an acrimonious split with his longtime band; Holly marries a Hispanic woman. All in all, pretty tame stuff faced by any artist rockin’ and rollin’ during a period when that genre was considered, as a memorable line from the play reminds us, “a communicable disease.” And although I can’t speak from a place of musical authority as might a rock critic or journalist, the play’s twenty-something sampling of Holly’s undeniably feel-good and toe-tapping songs nonetheless suggests at best a canon of music characterized by pleasant melodies and anodyne lyrics. Nothing wrong with that, and quite frankly it’s a lot more than today’s top-40 offers, but for the non-baby-boomer free of nostalgia it’s difficult to see—or hear—what the groundbreaking sound and influence is. Things aren’t helped by the fact that the musical gives us nothing of Holly’s formative years—indeed, how did a white kid from Lubbock, Texas, start playing and develop his sound? That this revival gets as much entertainment mileage as it does is a credit not only to director Tammy Mader’s polished production but also to actor Justin Berkobien’s exuberant performance in the title role. If the real Buddy Holly could have been described as possessing “the sex appeal of a telephone pole” that’s certainly not the case with Berkobien, a great-looking actor who looks like Clark Kent incarnate—tousled brown hair, blue eyes and a Midwestern Boy Scout’s charming eagerness-to-please. Along with the confident presentation of Holly’s songbook, as well as the play’s period authenticity, he’s the best thing in this entertaining if dramatically lightweight piece of Holly hagiography. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Thu 1:30pm & 8pm/Fri 8pm/Sat 5pm & 8:30pm/Sun 2pm & 6pm/Wed 1:30pm. $22-$41.50. Through Jul 27.