Local Current Blog

‘Teen Idol’: New play tells the story of Bobby Vee

Bobby Vee circa 1960 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The day the music died — when a plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed in Clearlake, Iowa — was also the day that a new young performer from Fargo would begin his rise to fame.

That night, 15-year-old Bobby Vee replaced the lost stars in their scheduled performance, and subsequently would go on to put 38 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 charts — including well-known hits like “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and “Rubber Ball” — achieve two gold albums, and help put the Midwest music scene on the map.

Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story, a script written by playwright Bob Beverage, will premiere at a reading during the History Theatre’s Raw Stages New Works Festival in St. Paul on Sunday, Jan. 17.

“An audience can expect to come and see the story of his life,” said Beverage – from Vee’s early work as a 1960s teen idol to a “consummate performer and writer in his later years.

“We have this big idea about stars and what they mean and who they are,” said Beverage. “We put them up on a pedestal. There are those stars we love to read about in the tabloids, that sort of defines what we think a star is — someone who is wild and crazy — but here is a guy who was a fabulous artist and a fabulous person as well.”

History Theatre artistic director Ron Peluso discovered Vee’s story while working on the theater’s production of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story.

Beverage said that Peluso “found this fabulous story about this young guy from Fargo who went on basically in Buddy Holly’s place the night that the music died and went on to be a big star.”

Peluso then asked Beverage to help write the show. He said, “As I started digging in a little bit, I realized, ‘This is an incredible story.’”

What Beverage found was “the story of this guy and what music meant to him and what he meant to music, especially the early rock and roll, that is somewhat forgotten now.”

Beverage points out that Vee was one of the biggest stars to come out of the region in the early rock and roll era.

“He brought a huge spotlight to North Dakota, to the Midwest,” said Beverage. “He never denied his roots. He had 38 Top 40 hits in the early years of performing, and he never left” the area.

In the process of writing the show, Beverage worked with Vee’s children, old friends, band mates, record producer, and the performer himself. “These folks had a tremendous influence on Bobby’s life,” said Beverage.

Now 72, Vee has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but Beverage hopes that Vee will be able to attend the Teen Idol premiere. In 2013, Vee was present at Midway Stadium for a Bob Dylan concert at which Dylan — who, when he was very young, played in Vee’s band — paid tribute to Vee by covering his song “Suzie Baby.”

“For him to stop and make that tribute to Bobby was just tremendously sweet and kind, but it is also reflective of who Bobby was because they had that kind of impact on one another,” said Beverage.

Going forward, Beverage plans to continue revising the script. “We’ll be revising this script the opening night,” he said. They plan to have a workshop this June with a group of actors and hopefully put on a full production in the near future.

Beverage, whose previous plays include Sisters of Swing: A Tribute to the Andrews Sisters, said that there are special challenges that come with telling stories about musicians’ lives.

“The hard part is integrating the music and the text,” the playwright explained. “You don’t want to stop the dramatic action, you want the storytelling to continue throughout the music and you want the music to tell the story. You want to find a way to continue the story telling through the song, into it and out of it and that’s tricky.

“It’s not about telling the whole story because you’ve got 70 years of a person’s life and you can’t put all of that on stage,” Beverage continued. “What you want to do is tell a good story about the person’s life and, in this case, good means honest and true. That it’s true to what happened and it deals with the honest emotions and the honest trials and tribulations, and if you can do that, you’ve got a hell of a story.”

The Raw Stages New Works Festival features four readings of new scripts with stories about the history of Minnesota and lasts from Wednesday, Jan. 13 to Sunday, Jan. 17. Of the festival, Beverage said, “this is one of the fabulous things that History Theatre has been doing for years now. Ron Peluso is a true visionary. Finding these stories and putting together the teams to bring them to life is really amazing.”

Tickets are available for $15 per reading or $30 for a Raw Stages Pass.

Sadie Bell, of Wayzata, is a Journalism + Design student at The New School in New York City. She is a staff writer at Local Wolves magazine and intern at Stereogum.