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The New Theatre brings Buddy Holly back to life

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Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park, Kansas

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There was no mistaking the collective gasp heard in the audience when Zachary Stevenson (as Buddy Holly in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, currently playing at the New Theatre Restaurant) first appeared onstage last night. Aging baby boomers appeared not to believe their eyes--and ears--as they watched the actor run through Holly's playlist with aplomb.

Stevenson gave an electrifying performance throughout the show, duplicating not only Holly's sound, gestures and mannerisms, but actually resembling Holly in physical appearance, down to the cocky, self-assured grin.

Oh, sure, there's a bare-bones script (written by Alan Janes), but it retells a legendary story familiar to anyone with even a smattering interest in rock 'n' roll, and appears at times to merely serve as a vehicle for the music. That may be by design, as the entertainment value provided by the show is so over-the-top fabulous that the musical acts could easily stand alone.

I don't know that I've ever seen so much talent on one stage before, outside of Broadway or London's West End. Professionalism and high-octave energy ooze from every pore of Stevenson's body, and he's surrounded by a supporting cast that perfectly complements his performance. In particular, Damron Russel Armstrong, in the comparatively minor role of emcee of the Apollo Theater in Harlem, is a human dynamo, getting broad laughs with his outrageous, wildly exaggerated antics.

With the music in the show bringing audience members back to the '50s of their youths, it seems only fitting that Executive Chef Mark Webster has concocted a buffet menu of "comfort food." Entrees of slow-smoked pit ham, deep-fried basa, pot roast, and chicken and dumplings are paired with a grilled vegetable medley, oven-roasted Roma tomatoes, sautéed green beans, baked ziti, loaded mashed potatoes (spuds swimming in cheddar cheese, cream cheese and sour cream) and polenta.

But I've saved the best for last--the BBQ chicken--succulent grilled chicken breast meat, served with a light barbecue sauce. It's truly amazing. Just like your mom used to make--IF your mom was a five-star chef.

A running gag in the show is that Buddy's mom keeps calling to remind him to eat. One look at Zachary Stevenson's lean and lanky frame (or a glimpse of the real Buddy Holly's publicity photos), and you can see why Mom was concerned. It almost defies believability to think that Stevenson consumes enough calories to perform at such a high energy level, night after night. Does he have an identical twin stashed away somewhere?

There's not a false note among the entire cast. Jayson David Eliot (as the Big Bopper) and Jonathan Rodriguez (as Ritchie Valens) do justice to the musical pioneers they portray. Bill Morey (as Joe B. Mauldin) and Kyle Brown (as Jerry Allison) play Buddy's high-powered backing musicians, The Crickets, with tremendous showmanship. Morey spins, twirls and practically does the splits, while never missing a beat on his bass. Brown is a highly competent drummer, even when providing percussion by just slapping his hands against his thighs on Everyday.

I have a confession to make. I reviewed this same musical at the New Theatre when it was first presented there back in July 2010 (with a mostly different cast), and I thought it couldn't get any better. I was wrong. The slight tweaking of the script and the addition of Stevenson as Buddy Holly has made this production one that will knock your socks off.

Your bobby socks, that is.

The Fine Print
You can catch Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story through August 25 at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park, Kansas. Call 913-649-7469 or go to newtheatre.com.

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