Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 6, 2011

Buddy Holly Returns

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through October 30, 2011
by Shera Cohen

I would like to think that I am somewhat entitled to a bit of credit for the success of The Theater Project's (aka Majestic Theater) success of "The Buddy Holly Story." With over 100 performances under its proverbial belt from 1997, and reprised shows in 1998 and 2002, neither the Majestic nor its audiences will let Buddy go away. That's wonderful news since it's here again in 2011.

After having seen "Buddy" in England, Danny Eaton (founder, producer, director, designer, set builder, playwright) knew that he must produce this musical. During the early years of The Theater Project, Danny often asked my opinion on the selection of plays and actors. Well, I'm not sure if he sought my learned opinion, or if I forced it on him.

I knew very little about the real Buddy and less about the musical. "Peggy Sue," horn-rimmed glasses, died very young - that was the extent of my knowledge. I researched, learning more about what an excellent talent Buddy had been and what he could have been.

Some readers may remember the community theatre group St. Martha Players. With few exceptions, I made a point of attending their shows. At that time, St. Martha was "the" theatre for consistently well produced musicals. Unfortunately, their venue was not up to par with the quality of the troupe. A church cafeteria was what the crew and actors had to work with. A stage was placed in the middle of the room and the audience sat cabaret style. Sight lines were terrible.

One of my favorite books, made into a musical, was "The Secret Garden." It was next up on St. Martha's calendar. A must-see! Sometimes reviewers are given the best seats in the house (a nice perk), but there was no best seat in this house. I went with a friend, and we sat at a table abutting the stage, with eye-level comparable to sitting in the front row at the movies.

Ben Ashley as Buddy Holly
Photo by Lee Chambers
I knew the reputation of the director (Anna Giza, I believe) and some of the actors, so I came with high hopes. The playbill listed Ben Ashley as the uncle. Hmmm, never heard of him. The uncle is a starring role. Who is this actor? As a very attractive young man took his place onstage, acted well and sang even better, my friend and I mutually nudged each other that here was a guy with potential. We sat close enough to touch his shoes, so for the next two hours, Ben was up close and personal. I thought: Who does he remind me of? He next sand the duet "Lily's Eyes" (with Frank Aronson). I was struck by the beauty of the song and the voices.

I was also struck by who Ben Ashley reminded me of. Put a pair of 50's black narrow glasses on him and a guitar in his hands, along with his already obviously good looks and talent. "I found your Buddy Holly," I enthusiastically informed Danny the next morning.

I don't know all the particulars that happened next. I'd like to think that Danny called the new Buddy saying, "Hey, Ben, I hear you are great. Shera wants to cast you as Buddy Holly for the next 15 years (well, off and on). Do you want the job?" The rest is history.