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PREVIEW: Teen Idol Mania in The Bobby Vee Story (History Theatre)

Matthew Rubbelke (left) as Ward the Dance Instructor and Tyler Michaels (center) as Bobby Vee. Photo by Rick Spaulding.

Each verse of Don McLean’s famous song “American Pie” invokes “the day the music died”. This day, February 3, 1959, has gone down in pop culture history as the tragic end of three shining musical careers. It also was the catalyst for the meteoric rise of a new star coming out of Minnesota. This story is told in the musical Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story, which opens tomorrow at the History Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota.

That fateful winter day, Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens were headed to Fargo, North Dakota as part of a Midwest tour called the Winter Dance Party. Fed up with the long drive times and freezing conditions on their tour bus, the three broke off from the rest of the band to take a chartered airplane. The flight was cut tragically short when the plane crashed in an Iowa cornfield, killing everyone aboard – The Day the Music Died.

Tyler Michaels (top left) as Bobby Vee and Kayla Jenerson (center) with the Company of Teen Idol. Photo by Rick Spaulding.

Prior to the accident, a 16-year-old from Fargo, named Bobby Vee had purchased tickets with his brother Billto the trio’s concert. When news of the tragedy reached the city, Bobby and Bill contacted the venue (conveniently located across the river in Moorhead, Minnesota). Might they be interested in hiring a replacement band? Their stage name was The Shadows; to prepare for the gig, they had to stop en-route to buy a pair of matching argyle sweaters.

Four months and innumerable snow later, Bobby Vee was in Minneapolis, recording a song called “Suzie Baby” with Soma Records. The song became a regional hit, and was picked up by the national label Liberty Records. “Suzie Baby” was the first of many hits – in obituaries, Bobby Vee was remembered by some as the singer of “infuriatingly catchy hits” such as “Take Good Care of My Baby”, “Run to Him”, “Sharing You”, and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes”. How catchy? Some thirty-eight hits on Top 100 charts. As for “Suzie Baby”? That song is still such an earworm that Bob Dylan covered it more than half a century later in his 2013 Midway Stadium concert in St. Paul. (Dylan briefly toured as a member of Vee’s band, although under a different artist name.)

Bobby Vee (Tyler Michaels) factored into several of the fad/novelty dances that swept the nation in the 1960s. Photo by Rick Spaulding.

Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story was written by Bob Beverage in collaboration with Jeff and Tommy Vee and was previously presented in the History Theatre’s 2015-2016 season, as part of the RAW STAGES: New Works Festival. The show is directed by Ron Peluso, and stars Ivey Award-winning actor Tyler Michaels as Bobby Vee and Eric Morris as Del Shannon, plus an array of pop singer and pop culture figures played by John Jamison, Erin Farste, Ryan Levin, Lynette Doublette, and Kenny Watson. It features costume designs by Kathy Kohl, a set by Rick Polenek, lighting by Barry Browning, sound by C Andrew Mayer, choreography by Jan Puffer, and props by Kirby Moore. The musical arrangements were written by George Maurer.

Teen Idol: The Bob Vee Story plays November 17-December 16 at the History Theatre in St. Paul, MN.

Basil Considine