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More than just a ‘Teen Idol’: Bobby Vee’s life story comes to the History Theatre

Bobby Vee in 1961 (History Theatre)

15-year-old Bobby Vee was just an ordinary teenager growing up in the Fargo during the ’50s — until one tragic day in 1959, when a plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson crashed into a field in Iowa, killing everyone on board.

Young Bobby Vee would take the stage for the artists that night, a move that would help turn him into one of the most popular teenage sensations of the era. “It’s almost like a rags-to-riches story,” says playwright Bob Beverage.

Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story opens at St. Paul’s History Theatre today. The play was first presented at the History Theatre back in January as a reading and has since evolved into a full production that aims to give audience members a look into the life of one the region’s biggest rock stars.

Beverage said that after the success of the reading, he and his team knew they had the structure of the play locked in. Since then, they’ve worked on adding music, elaborating on some of the subplots, and focusing on perfecting the dramatic action scenes that were necessary for the audience to understand Bobby Vee’s struggles.

The play starts off in the first act highlighting Vee’s rise to fame as a teenager in the 1960s and moves on to cover more of Vee’s personal life in the second act. Beverage said his ultimate goal was to show Bobby Vee’s life as more than one of a teen idol.

“The second act is sort of after you’ve been a star, how do you treat the rest of your life, you know?” Beverage said. “Some stars go off the rail, always trying to get back on top or to reclaim their fame, but Bobby didn’t do that. Bobby found a way to live his life as an artist, raise four great kids and have a wonderful marriage, do the art that he wanted to do and make a living, and still be a musician.”

While writing the play, Beverage took the time to talk to Vee’s family, friends, fellow musicians, and even Bobby Vee himself. Through working with them, Beverage found that there wasn’t a whole lot of negative drama to Vee’s story — like you might find with other famous musicians, who Beverage said, do everything to keep the fame they’ve gained.

“Everyone liked working with Bobby, and that was a little scary initially, because, gosh, he’s a nice guy,” said Beverage. “Who wants to go see theater about a nice guy? We’re so used to seeing, oh, this alcoholic, and this guy goes to drugs, you know, and so you create drama around those things. Bobby didn’t have that in his life.”

Beverage thinks what’s important is that audience members will be able to relate to Vee’s struggle to follow his passion for music and continue his artistic journey while still keeping up with the responsibilities of caring for his family.

“You know, all of us that have never been stars, all of us who have never been recording in L.A.,” said Beverage, “we can all relate to that struggle to understand what’s important to us, to understand what’s important to our family and to provide for our family in a way that will benefit them the most.”

Beverage says that even though Vee is a multi-million record-selling artist, in most ways he’s no different from the rest of us.

“Every one of us has stories — no matter how successful we are, no matter how many people know us, we all have struggles in our lives,” Beverage said. “We all have stories that will make you laugh and stories that will just make you cry, and Bobby is no different.”

Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story runs through Oct. 30.

Simone Cazares is a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas, majoring in communication and journalism. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.