Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 4, 2009

Winter Dance Party

Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield
January 3, 2009
Shera Cohen

The temperature was 10 degrees with a wind chill that blew snow sideways. This third day in 2009 was the most appropriate night to see the Winter Dance Party. What better way to warm the soul than with fond memories of the good ol’ days, when the 50s meant watching Ed Sullivan on the new TV set, sledding instead of shoveling, and eating the original “comfort food”. This era marked the start of Rock ‘n Roll.

The Party replicated the concert which took place in 1959 featuring The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly. The audience in Pittsfield became the audience of 50 years ago on that fateful evening preceding the death of these three legendary singers. Yet, no reference was made to the tragedy. The crowds of then and now (full capacity at the Colonial) were there for one reason – to experience the music of these three young men.

JP Richardson, Jr. (son of The Big Bopper) started the program. Like his dad, his was not the best of voices, but that was fine. The Bopper was a showman and comic. One poignant number referenced the Bopper. Of course, the signature piece “Chantilly Lace” was an expected audience-pleaser.

Ritchie Valens was portrayed by the sweet-faced Ray Anthony. The lyrics of “Oh Donna” spoke of tenderness. While this reviewer has no idea what the words of “La Bamba” translated, this speed-of-lightning song proved to be powerful and effervescent.

While it appeared obvious that John Mueller had “been” Buddy Holly for many years (over 10 and still counting), his presentation was as fresh as if he stepped onto the stage for the first time. Give the man a guitar, bow tie, horn-rimmed glasses, and a voice to match his namesake, and Mueller became the deserved star of the party. From “Peggy Sue” to “Rave On” to “Johnny B. Good,” Mueller/Holly constantly built the shows’ momentum.

The quartet was perfectly in synch as back-up and as part of the act. Oftentimes, sometimes encouraged by the actors and other times out of sheer necessity, the audience sang along.

A note about Colonial – masterful renovations have recreated (it dates to 1903) one of the finest theatres in New England, and it’s not just a summer venue.