Nearly 60 years ago, on Feb. 3, 1959, after leaving a show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly jumped on a plane to escape the freezing winds to make his way to the next stop on a long tour. The plane crashed shortly after taking off, killing Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens and pilot Roger Peterson. In celebration of the career and memory of Holly, Garland Civic Theatre will host the long-running musical The Buddy Holly Story from Jan. 25 through the anniversary of the influential musician’s passing.
The Buddy Holly Story, advertised as “The World’s Most Successful Rock & Roll Musical,” introduces Holly through his birth in Lubbock as Charles Hardin Holley and follows him through his rise to fame, his whirlwind marriage and Holly’s final night in Iowa. The musical uses Holly’s library of music as bullet points along the timeline of his brief life, giving audiences a jukebox filled with No. 1 hits as they learn about the musician’s life.
Rehearsal for the entire cast started Jan. 2, but Ian Mead Moore, the actor playing the titular character, has been hard at work since November, learning Holly’s many hits. Originally Moore was named assistant music director in mid-November, and during a production meeting, the group realized they might have the perfect Buddy Holly in their midst. Moore’s appearance fit the part, and his background as a musician and actor made the decision easy before casting for the other parts were announced.
Having a few extra months to ready himself for the part did not make the task of becoming Holly any easier, though.
“In my preparation for this, I was like, ‘Wow, so I have two roles to learn,’” Moore says. “It’s like learning two or three things at a time, because I have to learn something like 20 full numbers, playing and singing.”
Garland Civic Theatre’s production strives for authenticity, not settling for actors lip-syncing the words or music played in The Buddy Holly Story. Each performer will actually sing and play their instruments, not relying on polished music tracks. This stays true with the spirit of the musical itself, a production that doesn’t try to polish away the dark spots of Holly’s life, while also not choosing to dwell on them, either. For Moore, it’s a production that treats the legendary musician with an even hand.
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“Buddy was a polite kid from West Texas, but he was also really young and a prodigy in terms of writing and guitar playing,” Moore says. “He had a temper, and that comes through in the show. I think there are ways to direct it where it would be a candy-coated way, but for me and for Dennis Canright, the director, it’s very clear what the book writers intended.”
Garland Civic Theatre is the oldest community theater in DFW, and that spirit of community extended beyond the players bringing the show to life. Kenny Chavez, owner of DK Goods, saw a Facebook post from Moore requesting leads on finding a guitar that looked like the one Holly played. Chavez reached out, donated a guitar free of charge to the production, and floated out an idea on what to do with the guitar once the show was over. The crew loved the idea, and now raffle tickets will be sold every night of the performance for a chance to win the guitar and signed picks from the band in the show.
“We had our first full band rehearsal on Saturday,” Moore says. “Playing with musicians as talented as these people are, while I’m struggling to get my brain around this amount of material, makes it so much easier. Like the bassist and drummer and guitarist, and just working together. That’s something I will probably always love forever.”