Did you know there are new Broadway tours coming to the Space Coast? The Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne, Florida, will kick off a new season of musicals with BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY on December 6-7. Keaton Eckhoff will be filling in the iconic shoes (and glasses) of the famous rock ‘n’ roll singer who left us so young. I met up with Keaton to learn more about the show, his career, and what it’s like to sing (and play) Buddy Holly’s groundbreaking music.
BWW: Keaton, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. We are really looking forward to BUDDY here in Central Florida!
Keaton Eckhoff: Yeah, we can’t wait, it’s always very electric. People are very excited to be back on stage. You can really feel it when you’re there, it’s really cool
Can you start by telling us a little bit about how you got started in theatre?
Therefore, I am very fortunate that my parents were both in the industry professionally when they were close to my age. My father was a professional singer and my mother was a professional dancer and they met doing what he loved and fell in love and the rest is history. Though, growing up, I wasn’t pressured to do anything, but I always felt my natural inclination was to be more towards music, singing, and even dancing. When I was about 15 years old, I decided this was what I wanted to do with my life. We are here. I am now doing what I love and doing what I used to do at a young age. And every day is a special blessing in today’s world.
I suppose you went to school for theater somewhere?
I’ve already gone to two places. I went to the School of Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati which is actually a high school that also helps young teens and young adults hone their craft before college so they can get into a good college program with good scholarships and I was able to do just this. I was accepted into the Wright State University program with a scholarship and was able to continue my studies after high school, which is great.
Friend: The story of Sacred Friends should be familiar but for someone who lives in a cave or doesn’t know the story, how would you describe it?
So this show really spans 18 months of Buddy Holly’s entire career. It starts at KDAB and you see Buddy Holly performing on a radio show and then you see him trying to navigate his early career and getting his first couple and trying to figure out how to break into the music industry. You see him trying to record with Decca Records outside of Nashville, you see him record with Norman Petty and you hear all his songs trying it out for these amazing people who end up defending his music. Then, you see him performing at the Apollo Theater which, as we know, on that day, was usually an all-black performance space. What’s really nice about this show is that the audience becomes the audience of that time period. BUDDY does a really great job of keeping the audience engaged throughout the entire show. In the second act, you’ll see his love life with Maria Elena, you’ll see his relationship with The Crickets develop and you’ll be able to see his entire final performance before the dreaded plane crash.
And it’s one of the first musicals in the Jukebox I think. What do you think makes programs like BUDDY so popular?
I think this show works really well because the music doesn’t come out of nowhere. There is always a reason why we play a song. Either we’re on a show or we’re in a recording studio. So there is always an intention behind the music. Do you know how some jukebox musicals will play a song in a place because they need to fill in the time or they know the scene needs a song? There is always a reason to play the song, which is very believable and gives meaning to the audience. Also, this is a musical box in which the actors perform all the music themselves. There are no musical actors in other jock box musicals. You can’t really see the way the music is composed, and this show does it all, so it’s a lot of fun.
So, you play as Buddy Holly. Do you find it difficult to play the role of a known/real person? How about getting the sound right?
It was definitely a huge undertaking I mean I’m still studying. There is still more to learn. You can’t really picture the entirety of someone’s life in a couple of hours, but I pride myself on taking the time to really study their vocal interactions and conjugations. I read an autobiography of him to learn about how he grew up in Lubbock, Texas, his early youth and what helped shape him into becoming the person he became. The show doesn’t really show the dark side of Buddy, but there was definitely a dark side there, and he was definitely prone to drinking, prone to the party scene in those days. It was a period of disobedience far from the morals of the previous generation. When I first produced BUDDY, I was rehearsing for Buddy so it was a great time for me to learn the role and learn the songs – to get my inflections and clarify the mechanics of the role. Once I got to the National Tour, I started researching his psyche, how he spoke, how he walked, and the way he would perform.
Have you ever met anyone who knows true friend Holly?
I’ve met two people along the way this time, who knew Larry, Buddy’s brother, and knew Maria Elena, but I had yet to meet anyone who actually knew Buddy Holly. That would be great, though. I’ve definitely read a lot of what people have said about him.
So, you said you’ve been a surrogate before but were you familiar with BUDDY prior to that first experience? Were you a fan of Buddy Holly music?
Sadly, I didn’t know anything about Buddy Holly until a friend of mine told me, when I was working in summer stock, that I kind of looked like Buddy Holly. He saw me playing my guitar in the hall and said I should learn some of his songs. I kind of shrugged it off at that moment and said – “Yeah, whatever. I probably won’t get a chance to do that.” But then I had worked at a theater called Fireside Dinner Theater in Wisconsin and they were doing BUDDY, so I was able to audition for them in New York, and they gave me the opportunity to study Buddy, which is when I really got my hands on a lot of his music. There are still plenty of songs he wrote that aren’t starred on the show – but there are 18 of his songs on the show and even two of his Chuck Berry songs that Buddy loved to cover.
What do you look forward to most before you go out on stage every night?
It varies from show to show. Usually in other shows, where a role isn’t required, there will be a scene or feature I’m looking forward to. But since this role is so practical, I really try to focus on every moment because every moment should be the most important thing. You have to go to it with a new mind every night. So, the thing I look forward to the most is trying to keep it fresh and energized. This way the audience feels it’s the first time.
How does it feel to be back on stage after so long?
It is very electric. I think everyone was very hungry for this and very excited to see the stage again. We have a really great show. We are so grateful for the opportunity to perform and earn some money back to do what we love. Before that, during the epidemic, I was selling furniture. And while I was good at it and enjoyed helping people, that wasn’t what I went to in school and not what I wanted to do with my life.
What’s next for you after BUDDY?
We end this tour on December 7. They’ve been talking about maybe doing it again next fall but they don’t know yet. But I have a contract that will start on January 3rd on Norwegian Cruises which is going to be really fun.
So thinking ahead, do you have a dream role that you would like to play one day?
I’ve always wanted to play “Guy” from ONCE. I think this would be a great role. But I mean, I don’t think of it that way. If I can do that, sure that’s great, but my goal as an actor is to keep going – just to keep doing what I love and keep making other human beings who need it. This is really my dream role, and I do it.
Do you have any advice for young performers looking to enter the professional stage?
I would definitely recommend taking a lot of dance lessons. And if you can get your hands on a musical instrument, go for it. I would advise the younger generation to identify where they spend their time each day and see if it leads to what they want to do in their life, to their dream. Also, be sure to start recording yourself making reels for yourself if you get the chance. Record every party you take, record every show you do. Also, just be a good human being, there is no need to try to stab anyone or be mean.
Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know?
certainly. If you’re coming to see the show we’d love to hear from you. You can always access my website. Also, I’m recording my own music, I’m also a singer-songwriter and learning how to produce music throughout the pandemic. I plan to release some new stuff over the next year, so stay tuned for that. All my stuff is now under Keaton Alexander and it’s on all streaming services. Finally, thank you very much again for coming to the show and for all you’re doing to support Live Theatre. It’s really cool.
BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY running at Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne, Florida December 6-7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at http://kingcenter.com or by phone at 321.242.2219. The King Center is located at 3865 N. Wickham Road in Melbourne, Florida, on the corner of Post Road and Wickham Road.