Out & About: ‘Buddy’ rocks Ogunquit

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Oh boy! Summer may be gone, but Ogunquit Playhouse keeps on rocking.

The folks at the venerable playhouse are emphatically stretching the concept of summer theater. They opened the final show of their 81st season last week with a sensationally good production of “Buddy,” the biographical musical that recounts the story of Buddy Holly, the great rock-and-roll pioneer.

Portland’s Good Theater opened its 12th season with “Clybourne Park,” a powerful drama that covers a time span of 50 years and explodes with racial tensions. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.

Expect no tensions whatever when the Celtic Fiddle Festival explodes in Portland this Friday at One Longfellow Square.


Oh boy! Rave on!

Those two phrases quickly summarize the final show of the 2013 season at Ogunquit Playhouse.

For the grand finale to Ogunquit’s 81st season, executive artistic director Brad Kenney has chosen a jukebox musical that focuses on the life and songs of Buddy Holly, a pioneer and innovator of rock and roll whose brief, meteoric career ended at age 22 in a 1959 airplane crash.

Ogunquit’s fully professional production of “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” is a sensationally fine evening of rocking entertainment that also happens to be a true depiction of the man, his tunes and his times (at least as true as can be accommodated in a stage dramatization). It is a reprise of last year’s blockbuster production, which set attendance records for the theater.

The script, by Alan Janes, hews closely to the facts, beginning with Buddy Holly’s teenage years in Lubbock, Texas. At age 17, Holly formed The Crickets, a band with his high school friends. At first The Crickets played country and western music – a style that was perfect for Texas audiences in the 1950s – but soon they began venturing further artistically.

Rock and roll in the 1950 was full of racial overtones that created cultural conflicts and backlash, which in turn opened up new opportunities in music and plenty of pitfalls. Janes’ script follows Holly’s one and a half years of Top 40 fame, beginning with his first hit and ending with his death.

Holly’s best-remembered songs are in the show. These include rock classics such as “Oh Boy,” “Rave On,” “Ollie Vee,” “Everyday,” “Not Fade Away,” “Peggy Sue” and “Maybe Baby.” Several less-known Holly favorites are also in the show, such as “Words of Love” and “True Love Ways.”

For the title role, Kenney and stage director D.J. Salisbury scored a casting bullseye with Kurt Jenkins, a young musician and band leader who exudes the looks and sounds of the historical Buddy Holly. Plus Jenkins is an accomplished guitarist and singer who radiates excitement and charisma in the big numbers and more than holds his own as an actor.

Jenkins heads a superb supporting cast of 13, all of whom play an instrument and/or sing at some point in the show.

I loved this show a year ago and loved it again this past weekend. “Buddy” is definitely one of Ogunquit Playhouse’s best-ever offerings.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Rt. 1, presents “Buddy” through Oct. 20. Call 646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org.

‘Clybourne Park’

Racial tensions, one of several side issues in “Buddy,” provide the central focus of Good Theater’s first production of 2013-2014.

“Clybourne Park,” penned by Bruce Norris, takes a novel and effective viewpoint that spans half a century in a neighborhood of Chicago. “Clybourne Park” won two of this country’s top honors: the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play. Good Theater’s powerful production is a Maine premiere.

All the action takes place in the living room of a house in the Clybourne Park neighborhood of Chicago. The first act is set in 1959. The plot unfolds when a white couple sell their home to a black family and are quickly confronted by neighbors who unsuccessfully try to nix the deal.

The second act is set in 2009 in the same room in the same house. The conflict arises when a middle class black couple from the neighborhood confronts prospective neighbors, a wealthy white couple who have purchased the house and plan to demolish it, replacing it with an oversized mini-mansion.

There are seven characters in the 1959 act and a different seven in 2009. By design, a cast of seven covers all roles, plus a brief eighth in a 1959 epilogue.

Director Brian P. Allen gets a topnotch performance from Mark Rubin, who plays the arrogant “bad guy” role in both acts, first as the neighborhood association president and later as the self-important purchaser of the house.

Other fine performances are given by Noelle LuSane, playing a black maid in the first act and later as a long-established resident of the neighborhood. Other fine actors include Steve Underwood, Amy Roche, Sally Wood, Lucas O’Neill and Bari Robinson.

Underwood also designed the set, which has enormous depth and character in both acts.

Good Theater presents “Clybourne Park” at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) through Oct. 27. Call 885-5883 or visit goodtheater.com.

Celtic Fiddle Festival

The fiddle is an anchor of several national musical traditions, especially a number of Celtic lands. That’s the big idea behind a dynamic fiddling act that is currently touring the U.S. and stopping at One Longfellow Square in Portland this Friday.

It’s an international ensemble that formed 20 years ago when three fiddlers from three different countries decided to try a one-off joint tour. Although there have been several personnel changes over the two-decade time span, the basic concept remains.

Kevin Burke hails from Ireland; he plays a fluid, highly-ornamented style that’s characteristic of County Sligo. Christian Lemaitre honed his remarkable skills playing the hypnotic Breton melodies at dances throughout Brittany, the Celtic province of France.

Andre Brunet embodies the infectiously rhythmic tunes of Quebec and he was featured in the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Also from France is guitarist Nicolas Quemener, a veteran of numerous Celtic ensembles.

Celtic Fiddle Festival transcends all cultural and geographical barriers. In concert each artist plays a solo set, showcasing individual and national musical styles and traditions. A collaborative set follows, featuring all three fiddlers. Concert-goers can expect a memorable musical experience based on relentless precision and fire in the individual and ensemble performances.

Catch the Celtic Fiddle Festival at 8 p.m. Oct. 11 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Kurt Jenkins plays rock-and-roll pioneer Buddy Holly in Ogunquit Playhouse’s season-ending production of “Buddy.”