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Sorensen takes over directoral duties in ‘Buddy Holly Story’

Veteran stage director George Sorenson will take over the duties of directing the production.

Veteran stage director George Sorenson will take over the duties of directing the production.

George Sorensen had a blast watching the 1997 production of ”Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” at the Cactus Theater. He never expected to be directing the musical this year.

But with director Jane Prince Jones moving to Austin, Sorensen was everyone’s first choice to tackle the project. Recently retired from his position as professor of theater at Texas Tech, Sorensen has remained active, directing plays both close to home and as far away as Florida. His works stand out as some of the finest produced on Tech and local stages and, importantly, he has earned a fine reputation as an actor’s director.

Donnie Allison, directed by Sorensen in ”My Cowboy’s Gift” and now starring in the Holly musical, indicated that the director brings to the table ”warmth, knowledge and an ability to get the best out of everyone.”

Mind you, Sorensen had his work cut out for him. Producer Don Caldwell already had set a date for auditions before Sorensen was hired. The director recalled, ”I couldn’t be at the auditions. I was directing at the high school theater arts camp at Tech. That was a commitment I made a year ago and that had to be one of my conditions before I could agree to direct the Holly play.

”But I’d seen what they had done before, and I trusted Don and Donnie to make casting decisions. There have been some cast changes. But it’s interesting that some of the same people are back, only playing different roles.”

In the midst of the conversation, Sorensen refers once to the character of Lubbock deejay Hi Pockets Duncan, played by Bill Woodard, as ”kind of a Greek chorus” in the play.

Not to worry. Holly fans again will be satiated by the musical’s plethora of songs.

”I thought it was so much fun,” said Sorensen. ”And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Some things still work wonderfully. Hopefully, there are some expansion possibilities.”

Allison noted that there always have been scenes in which the dialogue struck him as phony. Sorensen opened his eyes to different approaches to these scenes, approaches which lent legitimacy to the words.

The director explained, ”I ask the actors to take a closer look at what the scene is about. What is in there besides the dialogue? What else is going on or, in some instance, what are the possibilities of what is going on? In Donnie’s case, it’s amazing to see the range he’s revealing as an actor.

”We knew he was a musician, a singer.

”But with Donnie, and really with actors throughout the years, I just have to point out that sometimes what you don’t have to do is what counts. Trust in the book (story). I suppose if I had a goal it was to make the play’s book as strong as we know the music is going to be. The songs will be great, but the book has to be respected so we’re all not just waiting for the next musical number.”

Sorensen said of Allison, ”I see him working on his part all the time. He has a terrific work ethic, and he sets standards for himself as a performer. I can make a suggestion and I’ll watch his mind start working, assimilating; three or four minutes later he’ll respond. There’s nothing quite like a thinking actor …

”But there comes a time when every actor must set all that aside and just feel it.”

All indications point to Sorensen placing more emphasis on characters.

He has tightened the play to an extent while trying to, as he put it, ”expand on some of the themes that relate to what is going on in Buddy Holly’s head and heart. And the character of Hi Pockets has become a stronger figure in Buddy’s life. He’s not just a deejay; he’s almost a surrogate father figure. He is someone Buddy can play off of, the man who helps start his career but also continues to react to how Buddy is handling his life.”

Maria Elena Holly this year will be played by Vanessa Montoya, whom Sorensen has directed in other productions. ”What she brings to the role,” he explained, ”is passion, a sense of humor and a willingness to make choices. I was thrilled when I learned that she had been cast. She makes strong choices in how she approaches Donnie as Buddy.

”She has to let us know not just her decision, but why she could fall in love with Buddy Holly after being together only five hours. It can’t be just hero worship or because she’s heard him on the radio. If Vanessa’s Maria can fall in love and still question things about Buddy, there’s a lot of potential depth there.”

Eight days before opening night, Sorensen was still fine-tuning. He was about to meet Floyd Price for a ”special rehearsal” of the play’s Apollo Theater sequence. He was giving more thought to the play’s ending, not yet sure if he wanted to make any changes.

The local production’s skillful music production has ensured success but, in Sorensen’s hands, characters may be fleshed out.

He is aware, as well, that the real Maria Elena Holly, not to mention Holly’s surviving relatives, again will see the musical. That knowledge dictates no decisions, however. Rather, said Sorensen, ”I keep that in mind only in the sense that I don’t want to let them down. I don’t want them to think that we don’t respect any memories they might have.”

By WILLIAM KERNS
A-J Entertainment Editor

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