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Indianapolis Celebrating Enduring Music in Productions 'Motown' and 'Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story'

by Rita Kohn
July 9, 2019
Indianapolis, IN
Indianapolis was in a convergence of two 60th year commemorative music milestones on July 5, 2019.

At The District Theatre, Indianapolis’ Timeless Music Project shared its nod to the founding of the “Motown” phenomenon.

At Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” began a 45-show run unfolding the triumph and tragedy of iconic personalities.

Berry Gordy Jr. boldly solidified the sound that truly defines America with the establishment of Tamia Records on January 12, 1959, the genesis of Motown Record Corporation, incorporated in 1960.

The songs of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson remain with us past the February 2, 1959 plane crash in Iowa.

As part of the emergent Indianapolis Timeless Music Project, the IndyBluesRevue “Motown” featuring song-stylist Brenda Williams, brought together a storied seven-member band of players, including Josh Weirich, saxophone and bandleader; Pat Finnagan, keyboard; Tom Padgett, lead guitar; Mark Armstrong, baritone sax; Mike White, trumpet and flugelhorn; Greg Baker, bass guitar; and Tim Roe, drums; with Brian Baker engineering on-the-mark sound. We could tick off the road years with major acts for the players, and say, 'yesssss' that’s the sound that broke the line and made us at-one with each other.

From the start, one could feel the audience filling The District Theatre on Indy’s Mass Ave ‘was pumped.’ And then it spilled over. While Brenda was into the zone doing her moves, people got out of their seats and onto the floor in front of the band and danced. In the lobby at the close of the show, we unabashedly agreed, it’s what we did after the games in our high school gyms, its what we have earned to do now in a theatre. Back then, when we were ‘young’ young, not merely young at heart, players peeled off from our respective high school team’s marching band or the pep band, and played Motown tunes in the reverb of the gym. And when their pick-up jamming morphed to the self-anointed D.J., we shared our vinyls.

At The District Theatre it was America as it should be, in sync with The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, James Brown,The Bar-Kays, Four Tops I, Wilson Pickett, Junior Walker and the All Stars, Al Green, and Brenda’s insightful channeling of Aretha Franklin. Forget note taking for a pick-apart review. Groove in uplifting unity. Even the band members ‘fessed up to loving it, citing the difference between noisy clubs and this theatre crowd. Collectively they reported, ‘we played better.’

Indy’s Motown celebration is part of a national nod. While the Motown Museum, founded by Esther Gordy Edwards in 1985, is an on-going tourist destination at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, “Motown: The Sound of Young America- a 60-year retrospective,” is a newly launched tribute that runs through January 26, 2020 at the LBJ Presidential Library located in Austin, Texas, at 2313 Red River Street.

Michelle Obama revealed her Motown playlist to match her growing up in Chicago story as part of her autobiographical “Becoming” tour. In December 2018, Ms Obama revealed the ways she grew with the lyrics and music by Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Donna Ross, The Jackson 5. The individual titles’ list is fulsome.

What The Temptations released with Motown encapsulates the arc into adolescence when the capacity to love, to feel kinship, friendship, alongside someone in sync with hopes and dreams, fears and setbacks. “My Girl” isn’t crowing about possession; it’s a declaration of solidarity toward a life of value, and taking responsibility seriously. In the moment of ’now’ it’s imperative as well to consider the profound impact of “Respect.” Withheld, the outcome demeans us as individuals, as a People. Aretha Franklin equally calls attention to disgraceful behavior with “Think” and “Chain of Fools.”

We at The District Theatre absorbed the words and the impact of the settings from which these songs grew. As a continuation of the Blues segment of the Indianapolis Timeless Music Project, I’d like to be part of an open, frank, community-wide conversation touching on relevance of relationships that uplift—be they one-on-one or as factions of groups. Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” deservedly is an anthem for unity of family and community right along with Stevie Wonder’s admonition, “You’ve got the future in your hand…” With “Signed Sealed” the spin is on deliberate choice.

“After Motown, Black popular music would never again be dismissed as a minority taste… Aesthetically no less than commercially, Motown’s achievements will likely remain unrivaled and unstoppable,” cites the message on the Motown Museum website. There’s a moral consequence with choice. “My Girl,” “Stand By Me,” “Ain’t Too Proud,” profess commitment to honor; a declaration of everything that makes a life worthy. Hit upon and run are cheap tricks. Indianapolis has a roster of people whose choices grew worthiness. The “Motown” sound was and remains a call for positive response to the degradation of selfhood.

The newly launched “Inclusive City” initiative, undertaken by neighborhood leaders with the Indianapolis Foundation, seeks to dance to that essential life-rhythm named dignity in harmony with a long line of activists, Who they are and what they accomplished earns recall.

Berry Gordy developed Motown as a model of Black entrepreneurship, putting pride in personhood and meticulous self-expression at front and center. It was a village of singers, songwriters, producers and musicians imbuing “simple” with sophistication. Rooted in gospel and blues, the catch-phrase became “visceral intensity,” further cites the Detroit-based Motown Museum. The message bears constant repeating. No one puts you down but your own lack of self-respect; kindling that lack into bad choices, ugly behavior against others dis-respects the heritage of those who fought for respect.

Buddy Holly, with his entrance on the national scene in 1957, predated the significance of what Berry Gordy developed into the Motown sound. Holly’s sound and presence had roots geographically in Lubbock. Texas and musically from Country and Western. One of the most insightful commentaries on the enduring influence of Buddy Holly is by James Stafford.

Posted February 25, 2015 on the diffuser website [see: https://diffuser.fm/the-roots-of-indie-buddy-holly/], Stafford illustrates why the thread runs cleanly from Buddy to indie—no molds squeeze out the essential vibe of real for either or both. And that Spirit of Independence shines through the straightforward story unfolding at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre right now.

A particular high point is the Apollo Theatre appearance. Missing that moment of history retold is akin to missing your child’s first clear pronouncement of “Mommy" and First clear pronouncement of “Daddy.”

Jeff Stockberger directs Alan Janes’s script with a clear understanding of storytelling as a vivid, uplifting genre searing into memory so as to be retold. I’ve found myself retelling this version thrice over since being in the audience. As with "Romeo & Juliet", we know the tragic ending but feel compelled to relate what transpired leading to…Could death have been averted?

Kristy Templet’s musical direction always elicits impeccable diction and musicality from every cast member. Kelly Powers-Figueroa brings choreographic insight to each musical number and, as with Stockberger’s use of space, understands the significance of pictorial relationships between a lead singer-guitarist and a back up band of 2 or 3—what does it look like in the seats at that moment in recreated time for how they worked together as an emergent explosion on the national music scene? What we’re in midst of, is a dimensional churning of the melody and harmony equation in all human activity; E = mc2 is as intuitive with drama as it is with physics - with people as it is with planets. Energy anyplace at any time is an eminence, commanding, dominating, rising above. Buddy Holly is a phenomenon of energy and light in orbit with storied talent.

The energy and synergy on stage at Beef & Boards are all-embracing. The escalating momentum is in sync with inevitability. Credit an ensemble of fourteen actors-musicians who never stoop to impersonation or caricature. Kyle Jurassic delivers an honest, dimensional understanding of what drives Buddy, and why that fateful decision came as it did despite a promise. James Daley as bassist Joe Maudlin, Josh McLemore as drummer Jerry Allison and Christopher Tucker as the 4th Cricket playing guitar, are equal partners with Jurassic’s ease with vocals and guitar. They make a group in party today with what was happening over sixty years ago.Out of this cast, each is a major talent elsewhere as are the rest of the cast members, including: Kelly Powers-Figueroa as Maria Elena; Chuck Caruso, the “Big Bopper”; Edward La Cando, Ritchie Valens; Justin Figueroa, Norman Petty; Sarah Godwin, Vi Petty; Sarah Hund, fiddle player; Tarra Conner Jones, Mama Pearl; Joshua L.K. Paterson, Reggie and Apollo Performer; John Vessels, Hipockets Duncan; and Andrew Wade, Hayrider/ DJ/ Clear Lake MC.

Michael Layton’s scenic design amazes with its fluidity of transitions, abetted by his projections in concert with Zach Rossing. As always lighting, sound, costume and wig design along with technical direction are top tier, as is the backup orchestra including: Dorothy McDonald, saxophone; Daniel Golando, trumpet; John Huntoon/Brad Koser, trombone.

“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” continues though August 18, 2019 at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, 9301 Michigan Road, Indianapolis, IN 46268. Tickets and information at beefandboards.com; 317-872-9664

For information and tickets on what is playing at The District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204, call (317) 685-8687 or visit https://www.districttheatres.com.
The Big Bopper (Chuck Caruso), Buddy Holly (Kyle Jurassic), and Ritchie Valens (Edward LaCardo) sing together during the concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, now on stage. This high-energy musical features Buddy’s greatest hits including “Oh Boy,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Everyday.”

The Big Bopper (Chuck Caruso), Buddy Holly (Kyle Jurassic), and Ritchie Valens (Edward LaCardo) sing together during the concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, now on stage. This high-energy musical features Buddy’s greatest hits including “Oh Boy,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Everyday.”

Photo © & courtesy of Patricia Rettig


Buddy Holly (Kyle Jurassic) performs with the Crickets, Jerry Allison (Josh McLemore), on drums, and Joe Maudlin (James Daley), on bass, in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, now on stage. This high-energy musical features Buddy’s greatest hits including “Oh Boy,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Everyday.”

Buddy Holly (Kyle Jurassic) performs with the Crickets, Jerry Allison (Josh McLemore), on drums, and Joe Maudlin (James Daley), on bass, in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, now on stage. This high-energy musical features Buddy’s greatest hits including “Oh Boy,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Everyday.”

Photo © & courtesy of Patricia Rettig


Buddy Holly (Kyle Jurassic), left, reassures his wife Maria Elena (Kelly Powers-Figueroa) after she had a nightmare in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, now on stage. This high-energy musical features Buddy’s greatest hits including “Oh Boy,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Everyday.”

Buddy Holly (Kyle Jurassic), left, reassures his wife Maria Elena (Kelly Powers-Figueroa) after she had a nightmare in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, now on stage. This high-energy musical features Buddy’s greatest hits including “Oh Boy,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Everyday.”

Photo © & courtesy of Patricia Rettig


Kyle Jurassic plays the iconic title role in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, now on stage. This high-energy musical features Buddy’s greatest hits including “Oh Boy,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Everyday.”

Kyle Jurassic plays the iconic title role in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, now on stage. This high-energy musical features Buddy’s greatest hits including “Oh Boy,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Everyday.”

Photo © & courtesy of Patricia Rettig

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