A lot of interesting people have passed through Owensboro over the years.

And Zev Buffman, who died last week at 89, was definitely one of the most interesting.

When he was hired in 2003 as president of the RiverPark Center, people stared at his credentials and wondered, “What the heck is he doing in Owensboro.”

It was sort of like when people saw the old Executive Inn Rivermont for the first time in its heyday.

I mean, Buffman had produced more than 40 Broadway shows and 100 national tours.

The shows included Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Elizabeth Taylor’s Broadway debut in “The Little Foxes,” Taylor and Richard Burton in “Private Lives,” Dustin Hoffman in “Jimmy Shine” and Muhammad Ali in the musical “Buck White.”

Buffman also revived “Peter Pan,” “Oklahoma,” “West Side Story” and “Brigadoon” for Broadway.

He had served as president and CEO of 13 performing arts centers scattered across the U.S. and was the founder of five outdoor amphitheaters.

Buffman was also a founding partner of the Miami Heat and had been nominated for 27 Tony Awards.

Heck, he even had a bit part in “The Ten Commandments,” the 1956 movie that later became an Easter staple on TV.

What the heck was he doing in Owensboro?

Buffman always said he loved the people and the town.

He created a “Broadway West” campaign that saw several national tours build their productions in Owensboro rather than New York City.

And he created such things as Winter Wonderland, which turned the RiverPark’s patio into an ice rink in winter, Free Movies on the River and the International Mystery Writers’ Festival, which brought big names to town from 2007 to 2012, with a couple of gaps.

Buffman even tried to bring Grand Prix racing to downtown Owensboro.

But he had Broadway tastes and a bluegrass budget.

Owensboro just couldn’t afford his dreams.

But, boy, it was fun watching him dream until he left in 2011, at age 81, for a new theater in Clearwater, Florida.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301 klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301


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