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updated: 6/14/2013 6:20 AM

Former Chicagoan has rockin' role in 'Buddy'

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  • Ryan Dunkin plays J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," running at the Cadillac Palace Theatre June 18-30.

    Ryan Dunkin plays J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," running at the Cadillac Palace Theatre June 18-30.
    courtesy of Hilary Camilleri

  • Video: Ryan Dunkin in "Buddy"

By Riley Simpson

The last time actor Ryan Dunkin visited Chicago, in the winter of 2006, his fellow castmates in "The Full Monty" tour wanted to see the city from the warmth of a taxicab. Dunkin convinced them to follow him on foot across the Chicago River in the biting cold.

"They hated me," he said with a laugh. "I'm glad we're coming back to Chicago in not February."

This time, Dunkin is here playing J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson in the rock 'n' roll musical "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," which will play at the Cadillac Palace Theatre June 18 through 30.

The musical charts Holly's rise to fame, offering more than 20 rock and roll hits like "That'll Be the Day" and "Not Fade Away." "Buddy" ends on the day the music died, when Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens were killed in a plane crash in 1959.

"Buddy" debuted in London in 1989 as one of the first jukebox musicals, followed by a Broadway adaptation in 1990.

Originally from Fresno, Calif., Dunkin, 33, fell in love with Chicago in the summer of 1998.

He was performing in summer stock productions of "The Pirates of Penzance" and "Guys and Dolls" in Michigan when his friend took him to a showing of "Forever Plaid" at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago.

At the time, Dunkin thought the city, along with the rest of Illinois, was all corn fields.

He was "wowed," moved to Chicago a few months later and performed here for six years, training at Second City and singing in an a cappella group called the Navy Pier Players.

As the Big Bopper in "Buddy," Dunkin plays the guitar and the electric bass. He said the entire cast either plays instruments, including saxophones, trumpets and pianos, or sings throughout the musical.

"You get to see how talented everyone is," Dunkin said.

Dunkin's favorite part is the last half hour.

All 16 cast members are onstage to perform eight songs, including "La Bamba," "Heartbeats" and "Maybe Baby" to re-create Holly's last concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1959.

"It's a big rock 'n' roll moment there," Dunkin said.

Dunkin said the audience at the St. Paul opening of "Buddy" last Tuesday was on its feet, clapping and cheering.

"You don't normally get that when you're in a musical," Dunkin said.

He said he's looking forward to coming back to Chicago to catch up with old friends and check out shows at Second City and Improv Olympics.

"Chicago was really good to me, and I enjoy it," Dunkin said. "I'm glad that I get to go back."

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