Don McLean’s 1971 song, ‘American Pie’ refers to the tragic death of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper as ‘The Day the Music Died’. Well, little did he account for Sid Sidebottom and his Devonport Choral Society’s 2021 cast, because if you visit the Town Hall over the next few weeks, it will be very clear that Buddy’s legacy and music is far from dead!

Jam-packed with twenty five of the 1950’s most iconic musical numbers, we can be excused for perhaps losing sight of the minimalistic story-line. That said, what a clever choice by the Dev Choral to select this deliberate concert-style show, safeguarding any unforeseen interruptions by Covid19. This tight, well-rehearsed ensemble of twelve, lead by Ezra Shelverton in the title role of Buddy Holly, spend one hundred long minutes returning energy and colour to the stage of the paranaple arts centre.

Belinda Gunson and Jenny Slater take us on a trip down memory lane with a finely detailed, era specific set design. Wendy McCrae has matched the pizzaz of performances with equally glamourous costumes, all supporting the audiences transportation into the 50’s. McCrae and Sidebottom have worked creatively to remain culturally sensitive and respectful, yet clever in their character portrayal of sassy, soulful performers at the Apollo, played exquisitely by Tash Turner and Erin Araroa. These ladies welcome us to the Apollo, establish strong audience participation which becomes a pivotal acceleration for the energy that just keeps building from there. The storyline is carried and narrated by the charismatic DJ, Hipockets Duncan, played by Joel King. It’s great to see him returning to his home stage.

A standout moment of intimate contrast was divinely played out by Shelverton and Buddy’s soon-to-be widowed bride, Maria Elena Santiago played convincingly by Taylor Rand. This tender moment occurs in Buddy and Maria’s New York Apartment, away from the bright lights of show biz and beautifully highlights the diverse skills of these two performers.

Joy oozed from the four young men playing the Crickets. Together with Shelverton, Zac Weeks (Joe B. Mauldin), Janzen Reynolds (Jerry Allison) and an incredibly mature performance from fourteen year old new-comer, Lucas Hodge (Niki Sullivan) made us all feel like the Crickets were the coolest band to be around. It’s hard to believe that Reynolds has never played the drums! Serious hours have obviously been invested in some hard-core characterisation and musicianship, backed by the well-honed Buddy Holly Orchestra, conducted competently by David Turner.

The show ends as dramatically as Buddy’s life, but the audience is left alone to briefly reflect before the energy returns, ensuring we leave the theatre feeling as alive as the music we’ve witnessed.

In light of recent local government decisions (not too far from Devonport) to make considerable cuts to community arts projects, I urge our community to support our local theatre companies doing their very best to provide arts experiences that move us, entertain us or challenge our thinking. Netflix screens can’t possibly provide the same amount of enjoyment, nor provide the much-needed injection of culturally rich entertainment for regional communities like ours. Book a restaurant, meet some friends and get along to NOT ONLY celebrate the life and music of Buddy Holly, but the reawakening of live theatre in Devonport.

Dayna Dennison
North West Ambassador – National Musical Theatre Festival
Theatre Teacher, Don College

Photos by Jess Walker

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