'Buddy' review, Buddy Holly lives

Kurt Jenkins rocks with backup singer-dancer Linnea Larsdotter

Kurt Jenkins rocks with backup singer-dancer Linnea Larsdotter in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" at Gateway Playhouse, Bellport, through Sept. 14, 2013. (Credit: Jeff Bellante)

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If you want to know who to credit -- or blame -- for the "jukebox musical" look no further than "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story." Author Alan Janes created the template with his 1989 London hit that opened on Broadway a year later. The now-familiar format eliminates the need for an original score. Just acquire rights to songs by, for instance, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in the case of "Jersey Boys."

As Gateway Playhouse's season closer, "Buddy" will have you wishing summer would never end. Sounding surprisingly fresh nearly 55 years later, Holly's songs rock the Bellport barn theater to its rafters with the urgency of a soaring talent who knows, somehow, that he'll die young.

Kurt Jenkins as bespectacled Buddy twitches with impatience. Holly's willfulness emerges from the opening notes of "That'll Be the Day," as he and the Crickets defy their Lubbock, Texas, hometown DJ by playing rock and roll -- considered "colored music" at the time, instead of country. That also explains why the Crickets were assumed by Harlem's Apollo Theatre management to be black -- until they show up and wow the audience, as well as the torch singer (Kimberly Michelle Thomas) and sax player (Troy Valjean Rucker) with "Not Fade Away," "Peggy Sue" and "Oh Boy."

"True Love Ways," Buddy's ballad for the receptionist he proposes to on their first date, sweeps Nikki Arnone off her feet. The romance breaks up the Crickets and Buddy is a solo act when he appears at Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959.

He's joined by the Big Bopper -- Jayson Elliot bellows "Chantilly Lace" with unrestrained glee -- and Ritchie Valens -- resurrected by Xavier Cano with hip-grinding authenticity on "La Bamba." Hours later, they'll die in a plane crash.

Drummer Kyle Lacy, bassist Sam Weber and guitarist Matthew Riordan back up Jenkins on guitar and vocals. Under Jason Cohen's musical supervision, they're a hot band after starting out tentatively -- presumably in character as a young ensemble just learning new tunes Buddy has laid on them.

Director-choreographer DJ Salisbury keeps the concert scenes from growing static on Robert Andrew Kovach's '50s-accented set.

But most remarkable is the tragic realization that Buddy Holly was 22 when he died -- barely 18 months after signing his first recording contract. Indeed, the music died that night. Imagine the songs we'll never hear.

If you want to know who to credit -- or blame -- for the "jukebox musical" look no further than "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story." Author Alan Janes created the template with his 1989 London hit that opened on Broadway a year later. The now-familiar format eliminates the need for an original score. Just acquire rights to songs by, for instance, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in the case of "Jersey Boys."

As Gateway Playhouse's season closer, "Buddy" will have you wishing summer would never end. Sounding surprisingly fresh nearly 55 years later, Holly's songs rock the Bellport barn theater to its rafters with the urgency of a soaring talent who knows, somehow, that he'll die young.

Kurt Jenkins as bespectacled Buddy twitches with impatience. Holly's willfulness emerges from the opening notes of "That'll Be the Day," as he and the Crickets defy their Lubbock, Texas, hometown DJ by playing rock and roll -- considered "colored music" at the time, instead of country. That also explains why the Crickets were assumed by Harlem's Apollo Theatre management to be black -- until they show up and wow the audience, as well as the torch singer (Kimberly Michelle Thomas) and sax player (Troy Valjean Rucker) with "Not Fade Away," "Peggy Sue" and "Oh Boy."

"True Love Ways," Buddy's ballad for the receptionist he proposes to on their first date, sweeps Nikki Arnone off her feet. The romance breaks up the Crickets and Buddy is a solo act when he appears at Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959.

He's joined by the Big Bopper -- Jayson Elliot bellows "Chantilly Lace" with unrestrained glee -- and Ritchie Valens -- resurrected by Xavier Cano with hip-grinding authenticity on "La Bamba." Hours later, they'll die in a plane crash.

Drummer Kyle Lacy, bassist Sam Weber and guitarist Matthew Riordan back up Jenkins on guitar and vocals. Under Jason Cohen's musical supervision, they're a hot band after starting out tentatively -- presumably in character as a young ensemble just learning new tunes Buddy has laid on them.

Director-choreographer DJ Salisbury keeps the concert scenes from growing static on Robert Andrew Kovach's '50s-accented set.

But most remarkable is the tragic realization that Buddy Holly was 22 when he died -- barely 18 months after signing his first recording contract. Indeed, the music died that night. Imagine the songs we'll never hear.WHAT "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story"

WHEN | WHERE 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. tomorrow, 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 14, Gateway Playhouse, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport

TICKETS $25-$69, $10 standing room; gatewayplayhouse.com, 631-286-1133

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