Reporting Sara Pelissero
You never quite know when the good ol’ theater bug is positioning itself to bite an unsuspecting victim and in Andy Christopher’s case, it took him in a completely different direction.
Christopher, who had some experience on stage in college, was well on his way to a pre-med degree, working as an EMT and learning the ins and outs of human biology.
But then he saw the role of a lifetime was holding open auditions.
Christopher, who’s from Texas, grew up listening to the music of Buddy Holly. He said his dad was a huge fan of the doo-wop era, so Mr. Holly’s music provided the soundtrack to many of their road trips.
“We would listen to doo-wop, we’d listen to Buddy Holly and I just grew up knowing his music and loving it,” he said from St. Paul. “So finally when I got the opportunity to learn it and perform it, I was just ecstatic at the chance.”
It was about three years ago, while on a break from researching medical schools and studying bio-medicine when Christopher decided to take a short hiatus from his current track and take a few courses in music.
While working on an ambulance, he saw they were holding auditions for the Buddy Holly story. They were looking for locals in his city, Lubbock, Texas, to fill the chorus. Christopher thought he’d toss his hat in the ring.
“In the audition, they had me sing a couple different ways and had me read some lines from the show. I was kind of surprised they had me read for Buddy because I had never even touched a guitar,” he said.
All of the music in the Buddy Holly show was played by the musicians on stage so having experience playing the guitar was essential.
“Of course it was one of the most intimidating experiences of my life. It was the first real audition I had ever been on and there was this guy whose done productions on the West End,” he said. “He asked me if I’d ever played a guitar and I was like, ‘Uh, no, I’ve never touched one.’ So he asked me if I knew anyone with a guitar. I said, ‘Well, this is Texas, so I’m sure I can track one down.’”
Christopher borrowed a guitar from a friend and spent the next three days in front of YouTube videos trying to teach himself how to play Buddy Holly’s song, “Everyday.”
“I went and saw (the director, John Banister) a few days later and played it for him. It was awful I’m sure,” he said, with a laugh. “But he saw something and a few days after that, I got a phone call from him and he said, ‘How would you feel about learning to play the guitar and being Buddy Holly for this show?’”
A slightly bewildered Christopher agreed and started working to become Buddy Holly. He worked alongside the director and the London actor who played Buddy Holly, picked up guitar lessons from Eddy Weir — Buddy Holly’s nephew — and soon enough, he was premiering in his first big production.
“It was fantastic,” he said. “I got bitten by the theater bug.”
After his initial debut, Christopher went back to working on the ambulance.
“I talked to John (Banister) and he said, ‘You know, if you really wanted to, you could make a career out of this. But you’ll have to move to New York and really audition,’” he said.
So he packed up his possessions and for the first time in his life, he left Texas for the Big Apple. He embraced the life of a starving artist — eating ramen and working at Starbucks — in order to support himself while auditioning for roles.
When the national touring production of The Buddy Holly Story was holding auditions, Christopher found himself coming full circle, returning to the role that made him so intrigued in theater in the first place.
He got the part of Buddy Holly and Tommy Allsup — alternating the lead role with a fellow cast member.
“It’s just really working out well and it’s been a lot of fun,” he said.
While many people will no doubt be familiar with the iconic Buddy Holly songs, Christopher said it’s been great to see the audience learn more about the cut-too-short lives of these iconic singers.
“Something that surprises me every single show, eight times a week, I think people forget how young Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valins and the Big Bopper were when they all passed away. And how short Buddy Holly’s career was,” he said. “He went straight from out of high school to worldwide superstar, inspiring bands to form like, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elton John — they all said they were inspired by Buddy Holly.”
Buddy Holly was only 22 years old when he was killed in that plane crash. Ritchie Valins was only 17.
“Every night when they do the radio announcement, you just hear one collective gasp from 2,000 people,” he said. “It’s really one of the most surprising and moving moments of the show.”
The Buddy Holly Story runs from June 11-16 at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts. For tickets or more information, click here.