Olympia theater companies are offering a crop of historical plays this fall, what with “8” at The Washington Center and “Richard III” opening Thursday at Harlequin.
At Capital Playhouse, the history in question is musical history: The playhouse is opening its season this weekend with “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” about the life and tunes of the early rocker.
“The music of Buddy Holly is incredible,” said director Heidi Fredericks. “(The show) feels like you are watching a concert. It feels like you are watching Buddy and Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, and it feels like you are back in 1959 watching them live.”
Holly’s music — including “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue” — has not lost its charm. Howard Shapiro wrote in a Philadelphia Inquirer review of a production of the musical last spring: “His songs, with simple lyrics and effusive melodies, are as catchy today as they were more than a half-century ago.”
While Holly, who died in 1959, may be a remote figure to many, some will know the story of his death from Don McLean’s hit 1971 song “American Pie.” On what McLean dubbed “the day the music died,” Holly, Valens and J.P. Richardson Jr., known as Big Bopper, were killed in a plane crash in Iowa after a concert.
Holly’s life is less familiar.
“When a lot of people think about Buddy Holly, they think about his death,” Frederickson said, “but the play ‘Buddy’ really celebrates his life.
“Even though it was really short, he lived it really fully, and he lived it really fearlessly. He was just a really interesting man.”
That’s not to say the crash is ignored. The show builds to the singers’ climactic final concert, one of two extended musical segments in the show, which also has Holly’s hits interspersed throughout.
The show is about 60 percent music, Frederickson said. Unlike a traditional musical, the songs don’t reflect the characters’ feelings in the moment, but they do help to flesh out the story, she said.
“They narrate his life. His songs were almost all autobiographical or about people he knew,” she said. “But they don’t necessarily propel the story forward. They are more, like, incorporated into the story in chronological order.”
The show also includes hits by Valens (“La Bamba”) and Richardson (“Chantilly Lace”).
The actors playing Holly (playhouse technical director Bruce Haasl), Valens (Jeff Barehand) and members of Holly’s band (Mark Alford on drums, Leland Brungardt on guitar, and Lars Foster-Jorgensen on stand-up bass) all play their own instruments, she said. (The real Richardson didn’t play an instrument.)
“It is tricky to find musical theater actors who play their own instruments,” Fredericks said. “There aren’t a lot of musicals that call for it, and musical theater itself is such a discipline. ... We really lucked out.” ‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story’
What: This jukebox musical tells of rocker Buddy Holly’s life while showcasing his hit songs and those of Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper.
When: 7:30 tonight and Saturday plus Oct. 3-6 and 10-13; matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday plus Oct. 7 and 14
Where: Capital Playhouse: 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $33-$39 adults, $28-$34 seniors and youth; for the Oct. 10 show, pay what you can.
Season tickets: $149-$176 for adults, $126-$151 for seniors and youth
More information: 360-943-2744, capitalplayhouse.com
REST OF THE SEASON
“Nuncrackers” (Nov. 23- Dec. 16): Those wacky “Nunsense” sisters are at it again with a holiday TV special taped in the convent basement.
“Next to Normal” by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt (Jan. 31-Feb. 17): This Tony-winning rock musical, which opened on Broadway in 2009, tells the story of a suburban mother dealing with bipolar disorder.
“Oliver” by Lionel Bart (March 14-31): The classic 1960 musical based on the Charles Dickens novel is beloved for such numbers as “Food Glorious Food” and “Consider Yourself.”
“Legally Blonde” by Laurence O’Keefe, Nell Benjamin and Heather Hach (May 9-26): Blonde jokes abound in the Tony-nominated musical version of the 2001 Reese Witherspoon film about a supposedly dumb blonde who takes on Harvard Law School.