GREENSBURG – This year marks the 60th anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and "The Big Bopper" (J. P Richardson). Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, on the northwest side of Indianapolis, is marking the anniversary by presenting an entertaining and brilliantly staged production of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" through Aug. 18.
This musical brings the songs and tells the story of Holly's rise to fame, which lasted just 18 months and ended tragically with a plane crash outside of Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1959. Though his career was short-lived, Holly topped the charts with hits like “Everyday,” “Oh Boy,” “That’ll Be the Day,” and “Peggy Sue.”
The show also features The Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace” and Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.”
The incredible legacy of the young man with glasses, whose brief musical career took place during the golden days of rock and roll, continues to live on in this show.
Beef & Boards adds another brilliant show to their long list of hits since the popular regional dinner theatre first opened its doors in 1973.
An almost topical treatment of Holly's rise to stardom, the show focuses largely on Holly's time in the recording studio up to his untimely death.
Eventually becoming known as "The Day the Music Died" (as coined by singer/songwriter Don McLean in his popular hit "American Pie"), the show comes to an abrupt halt as the unlucky trio of Valens, Holly and Richardson meet their deaths in a fated airplane crash on Feb. 3, 1969.
Holly had recently split from his band "The Crickets." The "Winter Dance Party" was Holly's first public appearance as a solo act. At the time, Holly's new road band consisted of Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup and Carl Bunch.
Rising artists Valens, Richardson and Dion and the Belmonts had joined the tour as well.
The tour began Jan. 23, 1959, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was poorly planned by General Artists Corporation, the management organization booking the tour, and travel soon became logistically impossible. The distances between venues had not been properly considered when the performances were scheduled, so instead of "circling" around the Midwest to each town, the tour zig-zagged with distances between cities over 400 miles.
The entire company of musicians traveled together in one bus,which, according to Buddy Holly historian Bill Griggs, kept breaking down.
The artists themselves were responsible for loading and unloading equipment at each stop as no road crew assisted them. Adding to the disarray, the buses were not equipped for the weather, which consisted of waist-deep snow in several areas and often sub-zero temperatures.
One bus had a heating system that broke down shortly after the tour began in Appleton, Wisconsin. Later, Richardson and Valens began experiencing flu-like symptoms and drummer Bunch was hospitalized for severely frostbitten feet after the tour bus broke down in the middle of the highway near Ironwood, Michigan.
The musicians replaced that bus with another school bus and kept traveling.
After Bunch was hospitalized, Carlo Mastrangelo of The Belmonts took over drumming duties. When Dion and The Belmonts were performing, the drum seat was taken by either Valens or Holly. As Holly's group had been the backing band for all of the acts, Holly, Valens, and DiMucci took turns playing drums for each other at the performances in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Clear Lake, Iowa.
On Monday, Feb. 2, the tour arrived in Clear Lake, having driven 350 miles from the previous day's concert in Green Bay. The town had not been a scheduled stop, but the tour promoters, hoping to fill an open date, called the manager of the local Surf Ballroom and offered him the show. He accepted, and they set the show for that night. By the time Holly arrived at the venue that evening, he was frustrated with the ongoing problems with the bus.
The next scheduled destination after Clear Lake was Moorhead, Minnesota, a 365 miles drive north and northwest, through towns the musicians had already played. Fed up with the road and needing rest, Holly decided to charter a plane to take himself and his band to Fargo, North Dakota, for their next concert date.
Soon after takeoff, late at night and in poor, wintry weather conditions, the pilot lost control of the aircraft, which subsequently crashed into a cornfield.
Everyone on board was killed.
A number of monuments have been erected at the crash site and in Clear Lake, where an annual memorial concert is held at the Surf Ballroom, the venue that hosted the artists' last performance.
Kyle Jurassic makes his Beef & Boards debut in the title role, as does Kelly Powers-Figueroa in the role of Maria Elana. Chuck Caruso, who made his Beef & Boards debut last season as the governor in "Man of La Mancha," returns as the Big Bopper. Edward LaCardo, who made his debut at Beef & Boards last season as Elvis in "Million Dollar Quartet," returns in the role of Ritchie Valens.
Beef & Boards’ production of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" is directed by Jeff Stockberger and choreographed by Kelly Powers-Figueroa, with musical direction by Kristy Templet.
Tickets for the show range from $45 to $70, and include a dinner buffet, fruit and salad bar, unlimited coffee, tea, and lemonade, with alcoholic beverages available for purchase.
For reservations, call the box office at 317-872-9664 anytime between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays.
Contact Bill Rethlake at 812-663-3111 ext. 7011 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.