That’ll Be the Day – When ‘The Buddy Holly Story’ Gets You Clappin,’ Stompin’ and Singin’ at the Wick

The Wick Theatre just opened the final show of its 10th annual audience-pleasing season with a foot-stomping, guitar-twanging, highly energetic musical that smacks of the rock ‘n’ roll-driven performance that closed out The Wick’s 2022-2023 theatrical agenda.

A year ago, Executive Managing Producer Marilynn Wick gathered up some top-flight rock ‘n’ roll vocal sensations who joined voices and styles to recreate the production, Million Dollar Quartet, the Tony-nominated, true-life, jam session that brought up-and-coming rockers Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley to the Sun Records studio in 1956 for what would become one of history’s greatest recording assemblages.

This year’s fifth of five entries — Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story – focuses on another musical genius, Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holly, a talented rock ‘n’ roll phenom who, in the late 1950s, was soaring up the tune-busting ladder of success – initially with his group, the Crickets, then on his own, carving a distinctive mark along the way. 

Matt McClure portrays Buddy Holly in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” now playing at the Wick Theatre. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

Wick taps Matt McClure for the iconic lead role – a stellar choice based on his looks, ability and style. Not only does the lead actor recreate the Holly buzz with finesse and guitar expertise, he also directs the show and designed the elegant set. He won rave reviews last year as Carl Perkins in Million Dollar Quartet and his performances as Holly have taken him across the nation more than a dozen times.

Buddy might have equaled – or even outdone — any or all of those aforementioned rock giants were it not for a tragic plane crash in a snowy field in Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959, that snuffed out the life, legend and extensive potential of the skinny, guitar-playing kid from Lubbock, Texas, known for his curly locks, “hiccup”-style singing voice and black, thick-rimmed glasses.

In his song, “American Pie,” singer Don McLean dubbed the sad date of that fatal plane crash “the day the music died” – a term that quickly entered the rock lexicon.

The Buddy Holly Story – initially a 1978 film starring a slimmed-down Gary Busey — became a stage musical in two acts written by Alan Janes. It features a wealth of the dynamic tunes and soft ballads Holly left as a legacy that remains a pillar of the pop music world.

The theater show, much like the film, focuses on the short, but prolific life of the bespeckled tune crafter who lost his life in the same air disaster that took the life of Ritchie Valens (“La Bamba”) and J.P. Richardson, known as the “Big Bopper,” whose musical claim to fame was a tongue-in-cheek paean to dating pretty girls called “Chantilly Lace.”

Vickie Joleen Anderson and Jawan Hayes appear in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” now playing at the Wick Theatre. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

Wick’s production opens in Holly’s hometown of Lubbock where Buddy and two friends form a country and western band – Buddy Holly & the Crickets (the latter portrayed by Kyle Lahr and Chris Coffey). DJ Hippockets Duncan (Kent Lewis) urges them to stick with country songs, but Buddy realizes rock ‘n’ roll is the way to go. So, Hippockets snags Buddy a contract with Decca Records.

After a rough go at Decca, they move on to join innovative record producer Norman Petty (Mike Brennan). In no time, Holly & the Crickets start churning out hits after it – among them, “That’ll Be the Day,” which rockets to Number One in just weeks. 

Buddy Holly & the Crickets are suddenly the hottest act in the country — and head out to perform in national tours, concerts and TV shows. 

Eventually, a rift develops between Holly and his Cricket cohorts. The band splits — and Buddy unexpectedly finds himself pursuing a solo career. But his song surge continues unabated.

This high-octane show features all or parts of more than 30 Holly hits, including “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy” and “Rave On,” among other tunes. But other great show folk add their own touch. A musical highlight of the first act is a rendition of the Isley Brothers song “Shout,” delivered with rafter-raising power by Vickie Joleen Anderson and Jawan Hayes. 

One factor Janes got right in his stage production was to insert an extended concert just before the show’s conclusion, an element that gets the intended mature audience clapping along and feeling like teenagers again. It certainly works well at The Wick.

The show’s energetic finale is set in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the last concert stop before the tragic plane crash. The production is an amped-up extravaganza featuring guitar-heavy, wall-to-wall music, fantastic dancing (plaudits to choreographer Natalie Hershman), excellent vocals and booming notes from a full orchestra. The rock-infused, tune-filled production features the Bopper (Mike Brennan) singing his signature “Chantilly Lace” with guts and gusto while Valens (Giorgio Volpe) belts out “La Bamba” with verve and pelvis-shaking moves. 

From left, Mike Brennan, Matt McClure and Giorgio Volpe in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” now playing at the Wick Theatre. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

Dancers swirl across the floor, then yield to Buddy who takes center stage and blows the ballroom doors off with more than a half-dozen of his newly minted hits. As Holly keeps the place shaking, the cast returns to the stage and joins the star for bows. 

Overall, the Wick ensemble pays a loving and laudable tribute to three musical wonders who will never pass this way again. As Don McLean says in his elegiac commemoration of Holly: “Something touched me deep inside, the day… the music died.”

Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story plays through May 5 at the Wick Theater, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Tickets start at $79 and are available at or by calling the box office at 561-995-2333.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *