Monday, October 8, 2012

Rave on, Buddy

The Buddy Holly Story at Capital Playhouse
reviewed by Alec Clayton

Bruce Haasl as Buddy Holly. Photo by Dennis Kurtz.
“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” at Capital Playhouse offers a rousing night of iconic rock and roll. The music is just as great as you’d expect it to be; not so much the play. It’s a tough story to tell: Buddy Holly’s meteoric rise from obscurity in Lubbock, Texas, his clashes with record producers and his band, romancing his wife (she accepted his proposal of marriage after knowing him for a mere five hours), and his tragic death in a plane crash at the age of 22. It’s a story not well suited to the stage because of the necessity of many scene changes that are inevitably awkward when presented in a small theater with a limited budget – and this awkwardness is exacerbated by dialogue that comes across as stilted in places. It’s hard to believe that even rock stars in 1959 talked the way some of these characters do. 

It’s those uncomfortable scene changes coming in quick succession that make it hard to enjoy the really good acting and singing. Variations on the following continue throughout: a short scene in radio station KDAV followed by lights down for a short recorded song, then lights up for a short scene in a recording studio. Director Heidi Fredericks and her cast and crew attempt some innovative methods for making these transitions flow more smoothly including recorded music, projected images, and off-stage announcements from DJs — but none of those things successfully smooth out the transitions. It’s all too obviously staged. The worst is a scene in an all-night recording session that drags on and on with brief bits of a song by Buddy and The Crickets then lights down for snatches of the same song played more quietly, and that formula repeated for song after song.

Despite these drawbacks, the cast does an admirable job of recreating a sense of time and place and a few years in the life of a most creative recording artist.

The multi-talented Bruce Haasl is Buddy Holly. He smartly doesn’t attempt to imitate Buddy but sings in his own style with a voice that is not as sweet as Buddy’s but is much stronger and just a little bit more gravelly. 

In addition to being a fine actor and singer Haasl is Capital Playhouse’s resident set designer, and he has designed a nice space that doubles as a radio station and recording studio with a raised control room and, also raised, a projection screen that cleverly hides the house band until the final concert scene.

The play opens with a stereotypical 1950s country band playing on HiPockets Duncan’s radio show. Patrick Wigren, who doubles up in numerous roles including that of the great Big Bopper, plays the leader of the band with comical zest. Next up is Buddy Holly and The Crickets who start out with a mild country tune and suddenly, to the chagrin of HiPockets, rip into a hard rocking rendition of the Little Richard hit “Ready Teddy.”

Following for the next two hours are 20-some Buddy Holly hits including “Peggy Sue,” “Not fade Away,” “Oh Boy,” “Maybe Baby,” and “Rave On,” plus the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace,” and Richie Valens’ iconic “La Bamba,” and an encore showstopper with the whole cast blasting “Johnny Be Good.” It doesn’t get much better than that.

Haasl stands out on many of Buddy’s songs. He belts out the fast songs and is particularly tender on the love song “True Love Ways” sung to his wife while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. And he brings down the house in concert with Valens’ and the Big Bopper on “Rave On.”

Jeff Barehand’s attitude and gestures make you believe he really is Richie Valens, and Wigren is spot-on as the Bopper. If you haven’t seen Wigren before (he was outstanding in “Annie” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” among many others), know that he is a comic actor in the mold of the fabulous Dick Van Dyke with a rubber face and limber limbs, and he sings terrifically.

Ensemble and supporting actors who deserve special recognition are Bernie Brady as HiPockets, Amaya Eckle as Vi Petty, and Mark Alford as drummer Jerry Allison. Alford has very few lines, but he’s an outstanding actor who is fully in character at all times and makes his character come alive, and he’s a very good drummer.

The costuming by Kellen Dixie Krieg is excellent. I don’t know if Krieg or someone else was responsible for hair and makeup, but I loved Vi’s beehive hairdo but was put off by the makeup on Sean Stinett playing Norman Petty. I assume the makeup was meant to make him look older, but it just made him look like he’d been working in a coal mine. I also wish they’d been able to find some bigger and heavier glasses for Buddy especially because he makes a point of saying he is going to get some.

See it for the music and the nostalgia, for great performances by Haasl, Wigren and Barehand, and be prepared to overlook a less than stellar script and those annoying transitions.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 14
Where: Capital Playhouse: 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $28-39
More information: 360-943-2744,

No comments: