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Curtain Going Up!

Rylance, Joanna Lumley, and David Hyde Pierce in last year's Broadway production of La Bete, with which the Irish Classical Theatre Company opens its season, with Brian Mysliwy, Josephine Hogan, and Vincent O'Neill.
The Broadway production of In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, which opens the New Phoenix's season.

Theater community's big night offers a glimpse of the season ahead

Autumn in Buffalo theater means Curtain Up! and the start of a new theater season. The 30th Annual Curtain Up! will take place on Friday, September 16. The first shows out of the gate set the tone for the season ahead and give us a taste of what’s in store.

At the same time, theaters strive to put their best feet forward in an effort to attract potential season subscribers.

Reasoning that musicals have broad appeal, the Curtain Up! roster is heavy with tuners, from 42nd Street at the Kavinoky to The Ghost of Fort Niagara at Alleyway Theatre, an original musical by Neal Radice about the legend of the headless ghost of a French soldier who has been roaming the grounds of the Youngstown fort since the 18th century.

Other musicals starting the season include the MusicalFare production of Oliver!, Lionel Bart’s beloved 1960 musical based on Charles Dickens’ tale of an orphan boy recruited to a life of crime—here told with a new orchestration. Lancaster Opera House will host Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. O’Connell & Company is taking on Elegies: A Song Cycle by William Finn on the campus of ECC North.

Theatre of Youth kicks off its 40th anniversary season of entertaining and illuminating the lives of young people with Pinkalicious, a musical for children about a girl who can’t stop eating pink cupcakes.

American Repertory Theater of WNY will present the extraordinary Adam Guettel/Tina Landau musical, Floyd Collins, which tells the true story of a man trapped in a Kentucky cave in 1925.

Musicals aren’t the only ingredient in the new season’s lineup. Happily, we continue to see recent New York shows getting Western New York productions. For me, one of the highlights of Broadway last season was a handsome and deliciously funny production of David Hirson’s La Bête, starring Mark Rylance, David Hyde Pierce, and Joanna Lumley. The Irish Classical Theatre is taking on this tale of a 17th-century French theater impresario who takes in a boorish street performer in order to satisfy a princess. Brian Mysliwy, Josephine Hogan, and Vincent O’Neill will perform this play in verse on the stage of the Andrews Theatre.

Another favorite of mine, Sarah Ruhl’s 2010 script, In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play will make its local debut at the New Phoenix Theatre On the Park. The Lincoln Center production featured captivating performances by Michael Cerveris as a physician obsessed with the therapeutic power of electricity and Laura Benanti as his neglected wife. Ruhl’s inspiration was the unlikely fact that one of the first commercial uses for electrical current was to power vibrators, which were widely advertised to naïve Victorians for their “therapeutic” qualities.

The Paul Robeson Theatre in the African American Cultural Center will present Cool Blues, a play by Mr. Bill Harris, directed by Ed Smith, about a black jazz musician in 1955, invited to spend the weekend in the apartment of one of the world’s richest women.

Subversive Theatre is offering Peter Weiss’ hard-edged classic, Marat/Sade, about the Marquis de Sade staging a play using his fellow asylum patients to reenact the assassination of French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat.

Dan Shanahan of Torn Space Theatre, known for his site-specific productions, moves into the Black Rock neighborhood of Buffalo with his original piece, Procession, set at Theosophical Society of Buffalo at 70 Military Road.

The true texture of the season begins to emerge after Curtain Up! and some exciting shows are in view.

The Kavinoky is offering an impressively rich season including the regional debuts of three marvelous plays, all of which were engaging and wonderful in their New York debuts: God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, Black Tie by Pete Gurney, and Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies.

BUA will enter its 20th year with a new production of Martin Sherman’s Bent, examining the courage of gay men in the Nazi era. The BUA lineup will also include Bill C. Davis’s new adaptation of his play about gay Catholics, Avow, and will continue in the religious vein with Charles Busch’s drag sendup of Hollywood nun pictures, The Divine Sister, starring the incomparable Jimmy Janowski; and Jonathan Tolin’s Secrets of the Trade, which will pair Janowski with the indomitable Lisa Ludwig.

Road Less Traveled begins its season with Internal Continuity, a new play by Shaun McLaughlin, and then veers from the path of their mission to develop new plays by local writers and onto the more traveled road of “esteemed modern dramas of outstanding merit” with two engaging choices: Ancestral Voices, Gurney’s fictionalized account of a family scandal set in Buffalo; and Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, author of August Osage County—which has yet to see its Buffalo premiere.

South of town, Buffalo Laboratory Theatre presents Indivisible by Taylor Doherty, the Sartre-like tale of four people trapped in a mysterious room. And on the lighter side, Kaleidoscope Theatre Productions begins its 10th year with Neil Simon’s perennial favorite, Barefoot in the Park.

Shea’s will bring back The Lion King in October, and later in the season The Million Dollar Quartet, about the recording session with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins—and The Addams Family musical.

Shea’s little space, Shea’s Smith Theatre, has become popular enough to offer its own subscription season of light and intimate fare. First up is Robert Dubac’s The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron, opening September 13.

Shows continue to shift into place, but already, the season looks engaging and exciting.