There is a big generational shift happening in live theater these days. To see it, though, you'll first have to put on your dancing shoes.
Older audiences are giving way to the massive wave of baby boomers. And those boomers don't necessarily want to see the same kinds of shows. Increasingly, regional and dinner theaters are swapping out some of the usual war horses - lush but outdated musicals such as "Carousel" and "Guys and Dolls" - in favor of more rocking fare.
There's little better evidence of this than "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," a jukebox musical ode to the Texas boy whose musical trio turned three chords and a pair of chunky black glasses into a rocket-ship ride up the charts ("That'll Be the Day," "Peggy Sue"), before an untimely death in a plane crash at age 22. Since 1989, "Buddy" has proved an international hit, and these days it's a staple of regional and dinner theaters.
Mesa's Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, which scored a hit with "Buddy" in 2005, is reprising the show - and though it stars a new Buddy, Todd Meredith, it's still bringing otherwise staid dinner theater crowds to a shimmy-shaking, standing-ovation froth.
Skittering through scenes of Buddy and his Crickets as they rise from Lubbock honky-tonkers to bona fide pop stars, "Buddy" takes all the expected detours - a gig at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Buddy's headlong jump into marriage, recording studio tensions between band members - before Act II climaxes with a nine-song performance from Buddy, sans Crickets, in a tragic final concert with The Big Bopper (Chuck Caruso, who's pitch-perfect) and Ritchie Valens (Jayar Garcia), in Iowa.
Like its 2005 staging, the Palm's latest "Buddy" is big on charm and rocks loud. The plot is piffle, but there are cute and funny moments galore. The cast delivers almost uniformly fine performances - though Meredith's take on Buddy isn't quite as satisfying as that of 2005's star, Billy McGuigan. Meredith's version is rawer, younger, but less able to channel Buddy's hiccuppy tics and vocal style. Still, it's a minor quibble.
Leaving the show, which runs through June 7 at the Palm, one can't help ponder the future of jukebox musicals. Namely, if "Buddy," with its 25-tune barrage of simple three-chord pop, could keep a boomer crowd's attention (heck, expect more three-chordage at the Palm's summer show, "Honky Tonk Angels"), what can we expect for Generation X audiences?
Beats me. But I'll be first in line if the Palm ever stages "Gabba Gabba Hey!" Michael Herrmann's musical about punk legends The Ramones.