Growing up in Baton Rouge, Lori Lusted remembers going to the Centroplex (now Raising Cane's River Center) Performing Arts Theater to see touring musicals like “Annie,” “Les Miserables” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
“I would go to those shows and look up to the performers so much,” Lusted said. “It’s kind of bizarre to me that we are going to be the actors on that stage.”
Bizarre may not be the right term. It’s more like part of a plan.
Lusted, 32, is in the cast when “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” comes to town at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7. It will be her first time performing professionally in her hometown.
“I wish I could tell you I knew all of his songs, but I really didn’t have any clue who he was,” Lusted said. “I believe I had heard the song ‘Everyday.’ I recognized it. And, I remember hearing about a really tragic plane crash, but I didn’t know all the details. The story of Buddy Holly’s life was definitely new to me.”
Which is to be expected of someone born in the mid-1980s. Holly, a Lubbock, Texas, native, was in the forefront of rock-n-roll’s beginnings in the 1950s with hits like “Peggy Sue,” “That’ll be the Day” and “Oh Boy” before dying in an airplane crash on Feb. 3, 1959. Norman Petty, a recording engineer in Clovis, New Mexico, helped Holly make his big break.
Petty had a wife named Vi, and Lusted will portray her in “Buddy.”
“She’s not afraid to speak her mind,” Lusted said. “I think that’s my favorite thing about her. Vi, as the character, does not sing, but she does play the piano, so I do get to play live piano every night. In real life, she did contribute to some of the Buddy Holly recordings.”
Lusted will get to sing a solo as a character named Mary Lou, part of a fictional group called the Hayriders
The musical is a rollicking, 28-song tribute to the musical stylings of Holly and other rock stars in his era, and Lusted is happy to be a part of it, especially since the tour’s swing takes her briefly home.
“It feels surreal,” she said. “I screamed when I got the email that said Baton Rouge was going to be one of the cities.”
After this show, there will be 16 more cities for “Buddy,” and, Lusted hopes, a lot more professional nights for her on stage.
Not that she hasn't been on quite a few stages already.
Lusted caught the musical theater bug early, endlessly watching VHS tapes of “The Sound of Music” and “My Fair Lady” as a child. When she graduated from Baton Rouge Magnet High School in 2003, her musical parents — Barry, a guitarist, and Dona, a pianist-organist — encouraged her to pursue a vocal music education degree, which she earned from Centenary College in 2008.
While there, receiving training in opera, Lusted also performed in Shreveport-area community theaters in addition to teaching voice to area students. That’s when the desire to pursue a performing career became irresistible, she said.
“I felt I wasn’t pursuing what I felt my whole life I should be doing, so I was sneaking away to do grad school auditions,” Lusted said by phone from Montreal, where the “Buddy” tour made a stop.
She chose Oklahoma City University, which offers both classical voice training and an emphasis in musical theater, and her course was set. In addition to OCU’s opera and theatrical performance opportunities, she also attended unified auditions, where dozens of regional theaters, theme parks and cruise ships come to hear talent. Lusted was able to book summer musical roles such as Roxie Hart in “Chicago” at the McLeod Summer Playhouse in Carbondale, Illinois, and Cosette in “Les Miserables” at the Sierra Repertory Theatre in Sonora, California.
Getting her master’s degree from OCU in 2012, Lusted performed in “The Confession” with the Blue Gate Musicals in Sugar Creek, Ohio, where she also worked a second job to earn money to move to New York City in 2013.
There, her biggest off-Broadway role was Topeka Altobelli in “Swingtime Canteen” at Manhattan’s Cherry Lane Theatre. She learned about auditions for the 2016 national tour of “Buddy” and gave it a shot.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 7
WHERE: Raising Cane's River Center Performing Arts Theater, 275 S. River Road
TICKETS/INFO: $35-$60. (225) 389-3030 or buddythemusical.com