April 15, 2005
He may have pioneered three-minute, three-chord rock ’n’ roll and left the world tragically too young, but Buddy Holly’s legacy hasn’t translated to any sort of boom in the celebrity impersonator industry.
But then there’s Billy McGuigan, a 30-year- old Nebraska musician who’s turned a love of Holly’s music and a passing resemblance into a steady new gig: Aside from performing his own Buddy Holly revue, "Rave On!," McGuigan tours the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre’s chain of theaters in the Alan Janes/Bob Bettinson biomusical "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story."
The show opens tonight in the Palm’s Mesa theater.
McGuigan was in London with his wife a few years back and caught a production of "Buddy" on the West End.
"I was blown away by it," McGuigan said. "I’ll be honest, I’m not a big theatergoer, but I leaned over to my wife and said, ‘If this show ever comes to Omaha, I’ll do it.’ But I never thought it would."
Then in 2002, an Omaha community theater staged the production. McGuigan landed the lead.
But getting completely into character wasn’t exactly an easy fit: "We were the same height," McGuigan said, "but I was 210 pounds and he was about 140." Losing the weight was pretty easy, he added, thanks to Holly’s onstage energy. "Buddy’s just jumping around the stage all the time."
Much like the 1978 movie "The Buddy Holly Story," from which "Buddy" takes its inspiration, the stage musical sprinkles Holly’s music chronologically along a timeline, starting with Holly’s country roots and progressing along to his forming a band, the Crickets, to finding early chart success and quickly ascending the pop ladder. Like the movie, the musical culminates in Holly’s final concert, a date in Iowa with the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, before the three took off on their ill-fated airplane trip — the one that took Holly’s life at 22.
More than anything, McGuigan cares about preserving Holly’s music. He’s still amazed at the creative progress Holly was able to make during his time as a professional musician, from simpler early songs to his later recordings with lush orchestral scores behind them.
"Buddy Holly’s career was literally 18 months," he said. "That’s amazing."
‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story’
When: 6 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 11:45 a.m. matinees select Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, through June 4
Where: Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 5247 E. Brown Road, Mesa
Cost: $39-$50, includes buffet
Information: (480) 325-6700