Though Buddy Holly wrote and recorded some of the best songs of the 20th century, leaving a legacy that would inspire everyone from The Beatles and Iggy Pop to The Strokes and CeeLo Green, the events of his life are far less remarkable than his death at age 22 in an Iowa cornfield.
That story--of being born to a family that wasn't entirely on board with his music, and of a career cut short before it could go through any wild existential swings or drug addictions--is told in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, a touring Broadway revival that takes over the Morrison Center stage Friday, June 7, and Saturday, June 8.
"The music is what made him," said Andy Christopher, one of the actors portraying Holly. "He was a great guy, but it's like a big concert, this show. The first act ends with him playing the Apollo concert in New York. The second act is 35 minutes of a concert."
The live performances serve to frame the events of Holly's professional life, which include starting out as a country singer wanting to play strange new music people didn't understand, playing it against the wishes of his family and record label, and finding success just before his fateful decision to take a plane between two gigs instead of a bus--a decision that cemented his place in music history even more firmly than his canon of hits. Don McClean called that 1959 plane crash "the day the music died," and since it also killed the "La Bamba" singin' Latino wunderkind Ritchie Valens and the chart-topping and chantilly lace-loving Big Bopper, it's hard to argue with him.
Christopher grew up in Bullard, Texas, several towns away from where Holly was born, and attended college in Lubbock, Texas, where Holly's enduring legacy is celebrated in everything from street names to his father's choice of roadtrip music.
"My dad is the biggest doo-wop and music fan of that era and, sometimes against our will, we listened to Buddy Holly on road trips," Christopher said. "But you just grow to love him the first minute you listen to him."
When Christopher got the role in a regional production of Buddy in 2010, he even studied guitar with Holly's nephew, Eddy Weir.
"We would go out and play gigs in Lubbock at some place, and he'd be like, 'Have you learned this song yet?' And I'd say, 'No.' And he'd say, 'Well you better figure it out, 'cause you're about to play it in a couple of minutes,'" said Christopher.
It was a steep learning curve for Christopher, who had never touched a guitar when he auditioned for the role. His background was in biomedicine and he was working as an EMT to prep for medical school. Aside from the church choir, his only real performing background was playing dentist Orin Scrivello in a college production of Little Shop of Horrors.
But when the show's producers asked him to learn the song "Everyday" after his audition, he hunkered down in front of YouTube for three days straight and gave it a shot.
His rendition of "Everyday" passed muster, but that didn't mean the work was done. Opening day was getting closer and time was definitely going faster than a roller coaster.
"I had under four months to go from never having touched a guitar to playing behind my head for Chuck Berry's 'Johnny B. Goode,'" Christopher said.
He pulled it off.
That role pushed Christopher up in the Buddy-sphere, eventually landing him the role in the national touring production that will bring him to Boise. The show is such a tour de force of classic rock 'n' roll that Christopher says two actors are required for the part because doing eight, 2 1/2 hour shows a week is too much for one person.
That buddy system was part of what kept the play in business for 12 years in London's West End, and helped it survive revivals on Broadway and on the touring circuit. Since launching in 1988, the West End, Broadway and touring productions of Buddy have gone through 23 lead actors, according to the show's website. Those productions have also apparently led to 16 intra-cast-and-crew children--Buddy-babies.
When Christopher swaps out lead vocals with Kurt Jenkins, the other Buddy, he takes over lead guitar duties, which while being a step back from the lead, is still an impressive feat for a man who first touched a guitar in 2010. Christopher is even a seasoned enough musician now to toss out a Blues Brothers reference: Jenkins and Christopher previously shared the lead on a smaller regional production and he says teaming up for the big stage is like "getting the band back together."
But it isn't just tunes that harken back to his childhood and the fact that he's already got the lines down pat that keep bringing Christopher back to the role of Holly. He says he identifies with the character, and that Holly's gumption was a big inspiration for him to quit his job as an EMT and pursue acting full-time.
"He just always stuck with his guns," said Christopher. "He knew what he wanted to do and what he was meant to do. Everyone around him in his family was telling him to stop. Growing up, his brothers greased the strings of his fiddle, just so the audience couldn't hear him playing the fiddle. As soon as he started writing the whole rock 'n' roll style, he just hit so many walls and he didn't let that deter him at all."