Sunday, November 20, 2016

Theater Review: Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story, at the History Theatre (2016)

Poster for Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story, presented by the History Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota, October, 2016.

Tyler Michaels as Bobby Vee in Teen Idol.

Sir Tim Rice with Jeff and Tommy Vee and the cast of Teen Idol, October 27, 2016. (Photo by Mark C. Taylor)
In October, the History Theatre staged the premiere of Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story. Written by Bob Beverage in collaboration with Vee’s sons Jeff and Tommy, Teen Idol follows Bobby Vee from Fargo to Hollywood, as he shot to stardom as a teenager. Vee got his big break under tragic circumstances, as he and his band were one of the acts that helped fill the bill on the “Winter Dance Party” tour’s stop in Moorhead, Minnesota after Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson, “the Big Bopper” were killed when their plane crashed. After that performance, Vee started making a name for himself in the upper Midwest. His song “Suzie Baby” became a regional hit, which led to a recording contract with Liberty Records. Vee broke through nationally in 1960 with the Top Ten hits “Devil or Angel” and “Rubber Ball,” which both peaked at #6. Vee went on to score 38 Top 100 singles from 1959-1970, including songs like “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Run to Him,” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.”

Teen Idol examines Vee’s life as he struggled with balancing performing and having a family; and it also looks at how he dealt with life after the hits stopped coming. Vee married Karen Bergen in 1963, and their marriage lasted until her death in 2015. Bobby and Karen moved back to Minnesota in 1980, and Bobby was able to have a successful family life and still play his music. That’s no small accomplishment in the world of pop music, where success is fleeting, and singers can be washed up by the time they’re 25 years old. 

By all accounts, Bobby Vee was a very nice guy who gave the world more joy through his music and through his positive, joyous personality. Sadly, Vee was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and retired from performing in 2011. Teen Idol opened on October 1, 2016, and Bobby Vee died on October 24th, just a week before the final performance.

Teen Idol featured a superb performance from Tyler Michaels as Bobby Vee. Michaels looks young enough to convincingly play the 15-year-old Bobby, and he has the same kind of boy-next-door good looks that Vee had. Michaels was able to capture Vee’s rich and expressive singing voice. Everyone else in the cast did a superb job at presenting the music of the early 1960’s-I was especially impressed with Ben Bakken as Del Shannon, who performed a terrific version of Shannon’s hit “Runaway.” 

The program of Teen Idol thanks Sir Tim Rice, and while one might wonder what the connection between Bobby Vee and the lyricist of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, The Lion King, and Aida might be, it turns out that Sir Tim was a longtime fan of Vee’s music, and a good friend of the Vee family. Rice made a trip to Saint Paul to see Teen Idol, and at a reception after a performance he spoke about his friendship with Bobby Vee. Full disclosure: my wife is on the board of the History Theatre, so we got to attend the reception and meet Sir Tim Rice. Even though Sir Tim had never met me or my wife before, he was fully engaged in our brief conversation, and he struck me as a very genuine person. Rice said that he had first met Bobby at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 50th birthday party, and he had also accompanied Vee to Clear Lake, Iowa, for the annual concert at the Surf Ballroom in memory of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper.” 

Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story does a great job of keeping Vee’s music alive, and hopefully it will be staged again soon.

No comments: