Keaton Eckhoff walks around on stage around a skeleton’s version of props that adorn it — some chairs, a phone on a bench and a variety of musical instruments are set up. From off stage, the production stage manager, Martha Beggerly makes the sound of a phone ringing. Eckhoff walks over to the chair and picks up the pale yellow rotary telephone. He pretends to talk to someone on the other end of the line.
“That’s good. Let’s do it again but just look off stage as though you hope the phone hasn’t woken her up,” Suzanne Agins, the director of Cape Fear Regional Theatre’s production of “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” says as she walks up onto the stage to show Eckhoff.
“Ahh yes, that’s great. Awesome,” Eckhoff says, speaking as himself and restarts in his original position. He repeats it but this time, takes a long glance off stage as he picks the phone up. Agins nods in approval.
Eckhoff is tall and slender with a head full of curls. He makes a convincing Buddy Holly. The singing and guitar playing he will do in the theatre’s upcoming version of "Buddy Holly," will be all him. Once, years ago, another actor suggested he play this part — he had the look. He had the talent. The last thing he will have to do is figure out whether he is dying his red curls.
The actors move around the stage and Eckhoff moves into place for his next scene. Agins gives directions as she moves about the first few rows of the auditorium. After a few moments Eckhoff picks up his guitar and begins a serenade, in Buddy fashion.
Eckhoff has been an actor for years, like his parents, and played Holly in the touring version of the play. He also spends time in other productions or takes jobs as an actor on cruise lines. He originally auditioned for this position off a zoom call from a cruise ship.
“The connection was poor,” Eckhoff laughs. “… but we were able to make something happen.” Agins cracks a big smile at the retelling of the audition.
On stage, the actors continue to shift to another scene, this time it’s a musical number. During this production, there will be 26 live songs, with actors singing live and playing all of their own instruments. Even in rehearsals the back of the stage is littered with musical instruments.
“This show has incredibly specific demands of its performers,” Agins said. “There are also some songs that we’ll hear recordings of that function as a transition in-between.”
All of those recordings, Agin says, will be recorded with Eckhoff as the voice of Buddy Holly. The play covers the last 18 months of Buddy Holly’s life which include ties in to Ritchie Valens, played by Paul Urriola, and the Big Bopper, played by Michael Jones.
For Urriola, this is a returning trip to Cape Fear Regional Theatre and the Fayetteville area. He originally received the part of Ritchie Valens back in 2021 but had about a year to wait for “the world to ruffle out a few of its feathers.” Urriola shares more than just the ability to sing and play the guitar with his character, he too, does not speak Spanish.
“For me growing up as a Latin man who doesn’t speak Spanish, he has been a role model to me, to still be a part of this community,” Urriola says.
“Paul has done really well,” Agins says. “He learned this song just like Ritchie Valens did, phonically.”
Balancing all of the variety of musicians and instruments and live performances within a performance has been a big technical challenge for Agins and the other members of the production. The show will feature guitars, bass, piano, drums, accordion and even a washboard. The crew will have to make sure to take care of all the sound requirements while trying to tell the story.
Next on stage, more than 10 performers come and take their places behind musical instruments. In black Chuck Taylor’s, Jones, playing J.P. Richardson Jr., known by his moniker the Big Bopper, holds a microphone. He gives a few deep practices of “Hello Baby.” The tone hits on par with the 1950s singer and DJ. Off to the side, taking control of this scene is James Dobinson, the musical director.
Dobinson gives some instructions, listens as the performances begin “Chantilly Lace.” He runs backstage to adjust the lead vocals. Even though Jones is deep and loud, the sound of the instruments are louder in this rehearsal.
“The sheer volume of cable is pretty extraordinary,” Agins says with a chuckle.
Dobinson heads back to the front and they begin again.
“If you want to have really fantastic two hours of music and insane talent, then this is the show for you,” said Ashley Owens, marketing director for Cape Fear Regional Theatre.
“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” will play from Sept. 15 to Oct. 9. Tickets range from $22 to $37 each. Cape Fear Regional Theatre will host a preview night, military appreciation night and teachers appreciation night with discounted ticket rates.
For more information or to purchase tickets visit www.cfrt.org or call the Box Office at 910-323-4233.