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Center Stage

Bop brought back to life

2/10/2016

Who can say how many great songs we lost one Iowa morning in 1959?  That February, the 22-year-old Buddy Holly was just hitting his stride. A phenom out of Texas with a string of catchy originals, he had his first No. 1, “That’ll Be the Day.” But following a gig at the famous Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, his plane went down. The crash also killed rockers Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper and created an irresistible story.

“Buddy —The Buddy Holly Story.” Hoyt Sherman Place. www.hoytsherman.org. Friday, Feb. 12, 8 p.m.

“Buddy —The Buddy Holly Story.” Hoyt Sherman Place. www.hoytsherman.org. Friday, Feb. 12, 8 p.m.

Holly’s life was tricked up as a Hollywood fairy tale in 1978. Onstage, with the emphasis more on the music, it’s been a worldwide smash since ’89.

“Audiences can’t get over it,” says Michael Perrie, Jr., who plays Buddy on the current U.S. tour. “They tell me it’s like the stars have all come back to life.”

This vitality, Perrie goes on, reflects the cast’s commitment.

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“Ninety-nine percent of what you hear is live,” he points out. “That’s us playing the solos right in front of you.”

It helps that, when not touring in “Buddy,” Perrie is a working musician. Based in New York, he’s played solo and in bands. In this, he has something in common with the man he’s playing, who by ’59 had settled in Manhattan. There he could surround himself with other musicians while setting up house with his new wife, a dark-skinned Hispanic. For a small-town Texas boy, the relationship took courage.

“Buddy was always breaking down barriers,” claims Perrine. He mentions a famous concert from 1957 at Harlem’s Apollo. “Our show may send you out dancing, but it can’t ignore those issues.”

The singer’s love story provides thoughtful, non-musical moments. Perrine finds these scenes “touching.” Every night, he points out, he has to “fall in love and get married in half an hour,” but his female lead, Shanta Parasuraman, “makes it easy to believe.”

Nor is she the only one he praises.

resized 24“I’m nothing without the people around me,” says Perrine. And Matthew Cardenas, as Ritchie Valens, he says, “just rocks the house.”

The set, lights and sound also pack a “wow” factor.

“It’s like magic,” Perrine admits. “Everything shifts so smoothly.”

The tour has a separate bus for tech, plus a truck for the set and instruments. Each venue requires a sound check, which help renew the ensemble’s togetherness.

Every night, Perrine claims, he feels that spirit carry on into the show.

“The whole final scene is the show at the Surf Ballroom. Playing all these great tunes, night after night; it keeps things fresh,” he says.

Perrine even confesses to “wild” feelings of connection with the long-dead musicians.

“You can’t help it,” he says. “They were touring the country in a bus, and now here we are, touring in a bus.”

Before everyone leaves Iowa, naturally, they plan to swing by Clear Lake.

“We’ll get the full tour,” says Perrine. “Just like on stage, we’ll try to get as close as we can.”

Overheard in the Lobby: Thursday at the Civic Center, Jessica Lang Dance will premier a new piece co-commissioned by Des Moines Performing Arts. CV

John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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