Kieran McCabe Electrifies in Marriott Theatre ‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story”

Although his professional recording career lasted only two years before his tragic death, Buddy Holly was a major influence in the birth of rock n’ roll. There is no doubt that this rock icon’s meteoric rise to fame and then sudden death are the kinds of topics that make people thirst to read about in books and to learn about from documentaries.

The question is: how do you take a career that spanned just two years and ended in a fiery plane crash  and turn it into a family-friendly musical comedy? The answer, Marriott Theatre has discovered, is to hire a fantastically good director/choreographer and give them the talented performers necessary to create their vision.


Amber Mak is a stunner as a director and choreographer. Her work has amazed audiences at Drury Lane Theatre, Paramount Theatre, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Marriott Theater theorized that if anyone was going to figure out how to make the short life and sudden death of Buddy Holly a family-friendly musical, it would be Mak.

Marriott’s gamble on Mak has paid off in spades. Mak’s version of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story earned a standing ovation and catcalls galore from an adoring, enthusiastic audience on opening night. And rightfully so.

There have been multiple script variations of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story by Alan Janes. The first version of Janes’ script hit the stage in 1989, landing in London’s West End for over a decade. Other variations include scripts for Broadway, Australia, US tours, and UK tours. Different versions of the script play with how the story is told.

In an interview with radio show and podcast It’s Showtime with Rikki Lee during the rehearsal process leading up to opening night, director Mak shared that the Marriott version of Buddy takes the best elements of each of the prior scripts – a little touch of comedy from one script and a little bit of WOW! factor from another. It is, in a way, a world premiere in that the show that graces Marriott’s stage is something no one has seen before.


The amalgamation of the best of past scripts for Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, the lively and fresh version that Marriott offers through August 13 is all about having nothing but a good time. The emphasis is on enjoying music played by spectacularly impressive musicians while laughing and celebrating with new friends.

More than any version of Buddy that I’ve seen before, Marriott’s production relies heavily on the shoulders of the young man playing the title character. With scorching guitar skills, an infectious do-wop voice, and the affable charm of Tom Holland, Kieran McCabe is refreshing, cool, and delightfully fun as Buddy Holly.

The Marriott version of Buddy is told from the perspective of Hipockets Ducan, the Texas radio DJ who gave Buddy his first break in the music industry. We join Hipockets during a memorial broadcast, reflecting on the death of 22-year-old Buddy Holly and the legacy he leaves behind. What ensues is a flashback inspired by the real life of the rock n’ roll visionary.

As told by Mak’s talented cast, the Buddy Holly story that Marriott audiences get treated to is more suggested by the late singer’s life than an attempt to document the facts. It would be a pretty safe bet that most of the dialogue for Buddy and his friends wasn’t the rapid fire of romantic comedy gems that have the Marriott audience in stitches most of the night. But it works.


The perfect escape from the day-to-day grind, Buddy is campy, charming, and delicious. It’s like a sitcom with a classic 50s soundtrack. Think of it as Friends the Musical.

There are over 20 songs in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. Most of them are performed by Buddy and his band The Crickets in concert and recording studio settings. This makes the show more of a stylized musical review than traditional musical theater. But that is just semantics. Whatever you call it, it’s a really enjoyable show.

Songs include the classics That’ll Be the Day, Everyday, Not Fade Away, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy, Maybe Baby, Rave On, and Think it Over. And those songs wouldn’t be nearly as infectious and thrilling without the talents of Jeb Feder as Buddy’s drummer Jerry Allison and Shaun Whitley as upright bass slapping Joe Maudlin.

While the real Buddy Holly did not prance around the stage much, McCabe is choreographed to use every inch of space on the stage and some in the air to entertain the audience – and entertain he does. I don’t know if the real Buddy Holly ever played guitar behind his back, but McCabe’s Holly absolutely sizzles with guitar dexterity and rockstar showmanship.


The rest of the cast is strong as well. David Stobbe is very enjoyable as Hipockets Dunan, and then later as the Big Bopper performing Chantilly Lace. Molly Hernández is excellent as Buddy’s wife Maria Elena, whom he met and married only a short time before his death.

As terrific as Buddy Holly and the Crickets are, Marcus Terell and Melanie Brezill steal the show with their performance of the classic feel-good song Shout during a segment taking place at The Apollo in Harlem. Both Terell and Brezill are vocalists with charisma to spare. Music industry A&R people should take note that Marcus Terell deserves a recording contract.

There are also strong supporting performances from Alex Goodrich, Jordan Arredondo, Michael Kurowski, Cory Goodrich, Ellie Kahn, and Christopher Wren. Understudies include Teddy Gales, Lucia Padilla Katz, Nolan Robinson, Aja Singletary, Kelan M. Smith, and Arik Vega.

Music direction by Matt Deitchman nicely captures the feel of the bygone era of the early days of rock n’ roll. Scenic designer Jeffrey D. Kmeic, lighting designer Jesse Klug, sound designer Michael Daly, media designer Anthony Churchill, properties designer Sally Zack, and wig designers Miguel A. Armstrong and Katie Cordts all have done their jobs well. Costumes by Theresa Ham range from authentic to outlandishly enjoyable.

The succulently good Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story plays Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL 60069. Matinee and evening performances are available, see website for times. For ticket information visit or call the box office at (847) 634-0200.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Rikki Lee Travolta

For more reviews visit: Theatre in Chicago – your source for What’s on Stage in the Chicago Area


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