How Buddy Changed My Life

We can’t wait to welcome musical theater star Kurt Jenkins to Portsmouth to reprise his lead role in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story from July 9 to July 13—the launch of our new partnership series The Ogunquit Playhouse at The Music Hall. Kurt first played Buddy in the 2012 production at The Ogunquit Playhouse, received rave reviews, and went on to star in subsequent productions in New York as well as in the 2013 National Tour. He currently lives in Chicago, where he produces original music under the name Skyway Spirit ( and is a cast member in the hit musical, Million Dollar Quartet. We caught up with him recently to talk about why Buddy’s story resonates so strongly with so many.

Regina Baraban: What do you like best about playing the role of Buddy? What makes it rewarding enough to take time from your busy schedule to revive it for The Music Hall run?

Kurt Jenkins: Because it is the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. The energy exchange between the cast and the audience is unlike anything I’ve experienced, and I’ll always make time for something like that. Plus, the music and the story of Buddy Holly are so rewarding to perform. I’m always discovering something new within his music. It’s also like a time machine for much of the audience; music that means so much to previous generations.

RB: How has playing the role of Buddy changed you?

KJ: The Buddy Holly Story literally changed my life. When a friend encouraged me to submit for the 2012 production in Ogunquit, I was for various reasons considering giving up the arts entirely. Realizing I had nothing to lose, I whipped up a submission video and sent it in. Much to my surprise, I was offered the role a few days later, and within a few weeks I was at Ogunquit starting rehearsals! At first I felt like I was in way over my head but after the panic faded, I stepped up and did my job. Throughout this process I’ve learned so much about being a performer, entertainer, and storyteller. Playing Buddy put me on the path I was always meant to walk, and I’m continuously thankful for the opportunity.

RB: What is your favorite musical number in the show, and why?

KJ: “Not Fade Away.” Not only is it one of my favorite Buddy tunes, but it is also attached to a pivotal point in the story. At that time, the Apollo Theater in Harlem was not the safest place for a couple of white kids from Texas—but both the scene and the song show the unbiased influence of music. It’s the moment when Buddy starts truly believing in himself and embodying the rock-star aura.

RB: Why do we keep revisiting this era of musical history? What do you say about it to younger generations who are not familiar with the name Buddy Holly?

KJ: This era in music history resonates with our pioneering spirit. As much as we romanticize the story, these were just a couple of kids making it up as they went along. All the early rockers were. But this was one of the most pivotal moments in American history. For better or worse, it was the start of the youth-dominated culture and of rock ’n’ roll. To younger generations: Just listen to the music. Buddy Holly and Miley Cyrus are singing about the same things, just packaged for their respective generations. Plus, without Buddy, rock ‘n’ roll wouldn’t have been the same. The Beatles revered him. He invented the “power trio” format that’s been used by so many classic bands: Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble, Rush, John Mayer Trio, etc. His guitar technique was just as influential.

RB: What is it about Buddy’s personal story that resonates with people of all ages and all walks of life?

KJ: An underdog kid plays a hand in changing in the face of culture, rises to meteoric fame, and dies just as he’s hitting his prime. It’s a classic tragedy that’s perfect for storytelling. People relate to it at first because of the music. Then you’re truly hooked when you get a glimpse of the passion and the brains and the talent behind it all. Everyone wants that kind of genius in them.

RB: What is the most memorable takeaway you want to leave with the Buddy audience?

KJ: Just have fun! If you’re of the Buddy Holly generation, then you can be a kid again. If you’re of a younger generation, then it’s the most fun history lesson you’ll have all year. Everyone should experience the music and the story of Buddy Holly.