Billy’s Back as Buddy Holly

Weighing in on Spring Awakening


Billy’s wearing the Buddy Holly glasses for the last time, he insists, but the opening night crowd that gave him a standing ovation cried, “No!,” as they cheered for an encore that delivered a large slice of “American Pie.”

Before they arrived, the Omaha Community Playhouse had already responded to ticket demand by adding two more dates beyond the original “That’ll be the day” finale on June 24. If you’re among those who haven’t seen Billy McGuigan in his Rave On: the Buddy Holly Experience say “That’ll be the day” with a John Wayne voice when you mention the Buddy Holly hit.

His anecdote about the movie roots of that song and how his “Cindy Lou” song morphed into “Peggy Sue” were both familiar and appreciated by Billy’s fans, but he added so many new treats that it all seemed like fresh fun. That included percussionist Rich Miller drumming on a Jack Daniels box and a few country western tunes thrown in with the rock n’ roll.

Saxophone virtuoso Darren Pettit, with Billy from the start a decade ago, was back along with brother Matthew McGuigan and other members of the Rave On Band. George Laughery, the senior pro in this group, added a rousing rendition of the Jerry Lee Lewis favorite as the crowd joined in on “Great Balls of Fire.”

I briefly reviewed Spring Awakening weeks ago and went all alliterative about “tremendous treatment” and “terrific cast” at the Blue Barn. Then I promised to later “weigh the weakness unavoidable in its powerful story.”

Since that promise, a lot of great theater came our way, and plenty of opportunities to contemplate and, okay, procrastinate, about that weakness. Namely, that contemporary sensibilities make it difficult to accept such one-dimensional characters as the heartless adults portrayed in the musical.

That’s not a criticism of the performances by Hughston Walkinshaw, for example, as a nasty teacher and a ruthless father. And it isn’t a denial that such total lack of compassion existed when the original play was written in the 19th century or that it doesn’t survive in some parents and teachers today.

But it required magic on the part of director Susan Clement-Toberer and others to make us believe in the cruel authority figures and to accept dramatic reactions which drove young victims to their graves. Even with one-dimensional adults and angst-ridden teens it reminds vividly of the price paid for puritanical repression of normal sexual curiosity.

 

                                                                        —Warren Francke

 

Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to coldcream@thereader.com.

 


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