'The glasses go on and I’m Buddy': Hit show telling story of music legend coming to Birmingham

A.J. Jenks and Christopher Weeks are buzzing with excitement at the start of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story’s 30th Anniversary nationwide tour.

PAUL J.NEED
PAUL J.NEED

The two actors share the role of Buddy Holly, alternating between the physically demanding lead role and The Crickets’ rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan.

“Opening night was fantastic, it was amazing playing Buddy that night,” says A.J Jenks.

“We had a great preview week in Harlow. It really sunk in how big the show is when we got down to Plymouth. Seeing the 1,300-audience spurred us on even more to up our game.

"You feel you have more responsibility as this was where it all started. It felt ‘this is really happening now’.

“You’ve got to think of the fans and the audience. The audience want to see us ace it.

"It’s a massive musical phenomenon and it will probably be the biggest part of my career.

"Getting into the role of the musical legend that is Buddy Holly is like Clark Kent, in reverse. The glasses go on and I’m Buddy.”

Loved by critics and audiences alike, Buddy tells the enduring tale of the musical icon’s meteoric rise to fame, through to his final legendary performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, before his tragic and untimely death at the age of 22.

In 18 short months the Texas-born singer revolutionized the face of contemporary music, influencing everyone from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen.

It was on the London stage that Buddy’s legend took on a new life with the first of the big ‘jukebox’ musicals, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, in 1989.

A smash hit in the West End, on tour and around the world for the past 30 years, the show has helped to introduce Buddy’s music to subsequent generations.

In the show – which tours until summer 2020 - audiences are treated to 20 of Buddy Holly’s greatest hits, including timeless classics That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy and Rave On.

“My dad is a massive Buddy addict,” says A.J.

“His music was always on in the car when I was growing up, so it didn’t take a lot to draw me to the show.

"So many other bands and artists have been influenced by the music of Buddy Holly – from the Stones to the Beatles.

"I was screaming to get this part. I’ve been working on getting it for the best part of a year.

“It is amazing to play such a musical legend. I still can’t get over the thought of ‘A.J. Jenks playing Buddy Holly’. It’s overwhelming.

"It feels like I’ve lucked out and won the lottery to get the part. Thinking about opening night still gets to me.

“In my final speech at the end, after the announcement of Buddy’s death, I felt so emotional, I had to take a moment not to shed a tear.

"It dawned on me that this isn’t just a normal show. It’s a massive celebration of 30 years. It’s scary but I feel massively proud and honoured to be a part of it.”

A.J. was born in Birmingham and studied at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, graduating in 2017 with a BA (hons) in actor/musicianship.

On coming back to Birmingham A.J. says “The Birmingham Alex was the first theatre I ever went to, I saw a panto. This would be the first time performing at that theatre so that’s going to be a very interesting feeling”.

He’s no newcomer to Buddy, he played the role of Ritchie Valens in a semi-professional production in 2018. But the 24-year-old is loving donning the trademark Buddy Holly glasses and taking to the stage.

“It really takes a lot of energy,” he explains.

“I do around four performances as Buddy a week. It is great to have a few days playing Niki so that you can let Chris do his thing. You have to be very careful.

"In the first show I really let rip on the night and after felt a couple of croaks in the voice. I felt I’d gone too strong on it. I am being quite a boring person at the moment. I’m protecting the voice, looking after myself.

“You’ve got to stay in shape for the role, you need endurance. You’re throwing yourself around on stage with the guitar every five seconds, so you’ve got to be fit. Your body really aches in the morning.

"The best thing to do is get out and stretch, otherwise you seize up. I had a personal trainer for a while because I was starting to get a bit of a belly. I do a couple of 5km runs a week now to keep in shape.”

Buddy plays Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre from Tuesday to March 7.

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