By Christi Marsico • Staff Writer
Feb. 3 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of music legend Buddy Holly, who was 22 when his plane crashed in Iowa.
Celebrating the music of Holly and giving fans a chance to experience the man behind the music, “Rave On!” will be performed this Friday on the campus of WCU’s FPAC.
“It’s a two-hour high energy rock ’n’ roll extravaganza,” said actor and musician Billy McGuigan.
Performing 30 to 40 Holly songs, McGuigan will share the stories behind the music while portraying Holly.
While the show touches on Holly’s tragic death with suggestions of what might have happened, the primary focus is celebrating his musical relevance.
The actor originated the production in 2002 and has been touring the show around the United States since, backed by an eight-piece band performing songs such as “Maybe Baby,” “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll be the Day.”
About half the songs are true to the original recordings while the others — some of Holly’s lesser known songs — have extra arrangements added that are 50-esque with an edge, according to McGuigan.
“I want the audience to walk away appreciating Buddy more,” McGuigan said.
McGuigan, 34, grew up on military bases around the United States. He moved to Omaha, Neb., in 1990 and started pursing acting.
“I started out at Northwest Missouri State because I followed my girlfriend, Rachelle, who is now my wife, and I had an acting scholarship,” McGuigan said.
McGuigan changed career directions to teaching and returned to Omaha after a year.
While enrolled at the University of Omaha he joined a band, and in 2002 received a phone call to be in a production of “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.”
McGuigan admitted he wasn’t a huge fan of Holly’s before he was cast to play the part, adding he did know a few of his songs and loved the film “La Bamba.”
“It was a natural progression, and I fell in love with the music and saw how it has lasted so long and influenced so many people,” McGuigan said. “Buddy was passionate.”
McGuigan doesn’t think he looks like Holly and doesn’t try to impersonate him during the performance.
“I try to capture the essence of Buddy and portray him as what people would think he would be like,” McGuigan added.
After performing Holly in over 375 performances, McGuigan won several accolades becoming the “preferred Buddy Holly” by the writers and producers of the show.
In 2004, McGuigan felt compelled to write his own show, “Rave On!,” which began as a one-man performance backed by a band.
“I wondered what would it be like if you could see Buddy Holly now, and how he would reflect on all the changes,” McGuigan said.
Performing in comedy clubs around Omaha, McGuigan found success and soon toured his production around the Midwest with his sights set on eventually performing off-Broadway.
“Rave On!” is currently booked for the next three years, and McGuigan has not only taken on the roles of performer and writer, but director and producer.
McGuigan doesn’t live the life of a rocker, noting professional performances demand keeping fit.
“Old friends may be surprised at me now because it’s not just about acting. I’m writing checks, making sure everybody’s in line, and that takes over. I’ve become sort of a workaholic because it’s something I’ve have wanted to do all my life. I’m just happy to be living the dream,” McGuigan said.
McGuigan has embraced the audience’s response to the music wholeheartedly as he has seen three generations of Holly fans standing and cheering during the performances.
“It’s a lot of fun letting loose, and Buddy Holly is the ultimate rock ‘n’ roller,” McGuigan said.
For tickets and more information, contact the box office at WCU’s Fine and Performing Arts Center at 828.227.2479. To order online, go to www.ticketreturn.com and select “need tickets” on the left-hand side. Select the “arts & entertainment” tab, and then find “FAPAC events” under the “Western Carolina University” heading.