On the strength of the wild popularity of retro musicals like "Jersey Boys" and "Million Dollar Quartet," you might expect one of the first of the genre to swing comfortably into a city primed to swivel back to the Happy Days of early rock and roll.
Well, maybe not so much.
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"Buddy"★ ★ ½
Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, additional performance 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 23; through June 30
Running time: Two hours, 30 minutes
Parking: Nearby pay lots
Rating: For general audiences
"Buddy -- The Buddy Holly Story," which opened this week at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in downtown Chicago, closes with a modestly energetic half-hour or so of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Big Bopper hits. Unfortunately, you have to sit through an hour and a half of unimaginative dialogue, unimpressive acting and uninspired musicianship to get there.
It's not so much that this Broadway in Chicago presentation is a bad production as that it is so lacking in the spirit and infectious innocence of the age the play seeks to recall. Alan Janes' script itself is an accurate enough account of Holly's meteoric and brief career, but it's also a fairly superficial rendering, and the actors, who hit their marks and deliver their lines with calculated precision, do little to bring any of it to life.
From the opening scene at a Lubbock, Texas, rollerrink to the melodramatic ending in a Clear Lake, Iowa, ballroom, the production seems to rush from line to line and scene to scene with measured haste, aiming not so much to tell a story or set a mood as to provide the requisite hits and get the curtains closed.
Andy Christopher, who alternates in the lead role with Kurt Jenkins and carried it on opening night, is a believable enough Buddy Holly to get you to those hits, but he never really manages to bring off the painstaking but impulsive perfectionist of Janes' script.
As someone known only as "Female Apollo Performer," Lacretta Nicole provides some of the most compelling music of the night with her First Act rendition of "Shout." Ryan G. Duncan's version of The Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace," which introduces the play's lively finale, has some compelling moments, too, and as Ritchie Valens, Ryan Jagru turns in a spirited performance of "La Bamba."
Beyond those numbers -- none of which, by the way, are Buddy Holly songs -- the moments are only too rare when the audience feels any connection to the performers, nor they, for that matter, to each other. The entourage manages to coax an indifferent house to its feet with some truly heart-pumping renditions of "Johnny B. Goode" and "Rave On," but at that, audience members seem more to be acting out of perfunctory duty rather than spontaneous inspiration.
In the end, "Buddy -- The Buddy Holly Story" is a reprise of a nearly 25-year-old musical, and it feels like it. It's a serviceable production if you just can't get enough of those happy days of yesteryear, but if you really want some insight into the spirit or music of that time, it's not going to knock your bobby socks off.