"The Day the Music Died," as Don McLean put it, was February 3, 1959, when a small private plane went down five miles northwest of Mason City, Iowa. The crash killed pilot Roger Peterson and his three rock-star passengers: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson, aka the Big Bopper. Holly had 13 singles chart over a 21-month career. Valens had five hit singles, and Richardson's "Chantilly Lace" reached No. 6.
You might've known that already, but if you didn't, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story fills you in quickly. It's the jukebox bio-musical running at Capital Playhouse, and I owe it an apology. I was supposed to see it opening weekend, but between Sherlock's Last Case and 8: The Play, I must've suffered some brain damage. Luckily, I needn't add insult to injury by trashing Buddy here; it does exactly what a jukebox musical should do, which is please existing fans of the material and attract new recruits.
Over the last few years, my colleague Joann Varnell has had occasion to complain about sound design and implementation at certain Tacoma theaters. She has an ear for that sort of thing. My wife does, too, but made a special point of praising sound designer Tom Dakan. The orchestra, miked singers and featured instrumentalists meshed together with nary a glitch Friday night. As with Chicago at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, the orchestra's been moved to a platform above the stage, enlivening the action without distracting unnecessarily.
I'm Mexican-American, so I couldn't help but notice the frequency of "brownface" in this show; gringas Emma Barnes and Amaya Eckel play Holly's Nuyorican wife and mother-in-law, respectively. Natalie Wood in West Side Story leapt to mind. Happily, both Barnes and Eckel manage lovely Latina accents. A clunkier moment occurs when "Harlem performers" Laurel Mack-Wilson and Anthony Toney appear solely on video.
Bruce Haasl underplays Holly throughout; indeed, the cast's underplaying often borders on unplaying. The first act is likewise low-key, boasting faithful renditions of "Peggy Sue" and "Oh Boy." The script is perfunctory, existing primarily to introduce each new song, but that's to be expected. As for the music, Capital's faux Crickets play their own instruments, with a manically grinning Mark Alford on drums, Leland Brungardt on electric guitar and (near as I could tell from where we sat) Lars Foster-Jorgensen playing contrabass. They're supported by an energetic orchestra directed by Gabriel McPherson and a raft of backup singers, plus Jeff Barehand as Valens and Wigren as Richarson. All are in fine form, especially in Act II, which is quite a bit more upbeat and fun. Their eventual demise is handled gracefully. Minutes later, we're back in their final shared gig in Clear Lake's Surf Ballroom. The night we attended, a crowd of dancing Boomers swarmed the aisles. I suspect that happens most nights.
[Capital Playhouse, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, $28-$39, Wed.-Sat. 7:30 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. through Oct. 14, 612 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.943.2744]