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A play about a downtrodden Mississippi woman who fights her way out of poverty and into the civil rights movement. A farce about the untimely death of an anarchist. A mystery in which the audience chooses the ending. An avant-garde interpretation of a famed tale about a woman on the brink of madness. A Pulitzer-winning, fresh-from-Broadway rock musical about the ravages of bipolar disorder presented in the round.
This small sampling of theatrical offerings makes up only about a third of the productions on offer during Buffalo's 31st annual Curtain Up! celebration next Friday. It represents the ever-expanding range of Buffalo's theater scene, which in glorious defiance of population decline and funding struggles, continues to grow and diversify far beyond the imaginations of its members.
This year, Western New York theaters will present 15 productions on Curtain Up! night, with two of those (Subversive's "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" and MusicalFare's "The Music Man") already up on their feet. The volume and diversity of this year's Curtain Up! openings are proof positive that Buffalo's theater community has emerged relatively unscathed from last year's harrowing county funding crisis and is now poised for even more growth.
This season comes with some marked developments for several local institutions:
. Road Less Traveled Productions, now in its 10th year (as is the Jewish Repertory Theatre of Western New York and Subversive Theatre), continues to build its national and local reputation. It recently joined the National New Play Network and established its own core group of resident actors in a system modeled after collaborative institutions like the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.
. The American Repertory Theatre of Western New York has moved from its former home at Buffalo East to the Church of the Ascension on Linwood Avenue.
. The Honesty Theatre, a troupe formerly based in Batavia, has recently established itself in Buffalo and will be announcing productions (one is already slated for Sept. 19 in the Road Less Traveled Theatre) as the season progresses.
If you haven't figured out your game plan for next Friday's Curtain Up! bash - which gets started at 5 p.m. with a cocktail reception at Shea's Performing Arts Center and ends with a Main Street party that won't wind down until the wee hours - here's a look at what's on tap:
"The Music Man," through Oct. 14 at MusicalFare Theatre, 4380 Main St.
Chris Kelly, the director who conceived last year's hit MusicalFare production of "Oliver!" helms this classic musical about the lovable conman Harold Hill, who intends to relieve the residents of River City, Iowa, of their hard-earned cash but winds up - in the charming way of classic musicals - falling in love to the strains of Meredith Wilson's inventive music.
"The Accidental Death of an Anarchist," through Sept. 29 at Subversive Theatre's Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Ave. 408-0499 or www.subversivetheatre.org.
Kurt Schneiderman directs Dario Fo's hilariously (if somewhat morbidly so) antiauthoritarian farce that manages to skewer every brand of bureaucrat and government institution imaginable.
"Seth Rudetsky's Big Fat Broadway Show," 8 p.m. next Friday in the 710 Main Theatre, 710 Main St. 800-745-3000 or www.sheas.org/710Main.
Radio personality and musical theater expert Rudetsky will give a Curtain Up! performance in the former Studio Arena space featuring his trademark wit and a quirky video and audio collection of rarities and curiosities from Broadway and beyond.
"Crowns," next Friday through Oct. 7 in the Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Cultural Center, 350 Masten Ave. 884-2013.
This gospel musical by Regina Taylor follows the story of young Yolanda as she makes her way from Brooklyn to the deep South and tries, according to the play's official synopsis, to "figure out her identity, her place in the world, and her place in her own culture."
"A Streetcar Named Desire," Thursday through Oct. 7 in Torn Space Theater's space at the Adam Mickiewicz Dramatic Circle and Library, 612 Fillmore Ave. 812-5733 or www.tornspacetheater.com.
Torn Space Theater is known for its avant-garde approach and for its imaginative site-specific projects. Company co-founder and "Streetcar" director Dan Shanahan, known for his striking visual pictures, has retooled Tennessee Williams' classic play about madness, desire and violence in the sweltering South for Torn Space audiences.
"Next to Normal," Thursday through Oct. 7 in the Irish Classical Theatre Company's Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St. 853-4282 or www.irishclassicaltheatre.com.
The winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's rock-driven musical is built, as shaky an idea for a musical as this sounds, around a woman with bipolar disorder. It was immensely popular on Broadway, where it played 733 performances, and now has a healthy life in smaller theaters around the world.
"Same Time, Next Year," next Friday through Sept. 23 in the Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Ave., Lancaster. 683-1776 or www.lancopera.org.
This 1975 comedy by Bernard Slade, presented by Rocking Horse Productions on the Lancaster Opera House stage, follows the tale of a man and woman engaged in a protracted affair during which they meet only once a year. According to the folks at Rocking Horse Productions, the play will feature a series of local celebrity guests.
"The Mystery of Edwin Drood," next Friday through Oct. 7 in the Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Ave. 829-7668 or www.kavinokytheatre.com.
This popular musical, based on the unfinished Charles Dickens novel of the same name, features a laundry list of Western New York comic stars, including Gerry Maher, Charmagne Chi, Michele Marie Roberts, Marc Sacco and Brian Mysliwy. Plus it comes with a twist borrowed from the "Choose Your Own Adventure" novels: The audience gets to vote on the ending.
"Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical," next Friday through Oct. 7 in Theatre of Youth's Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen St. 884-4400 or www.theatreofyouth.org.
Mo Willems' popular 2004 children's book inspired this musical tale of a girl named Trixie (Maria Droz), who loses her prized stuffed animal, the fun-to-pronounce Knuffle Bunny at the laundromat and her parents' efforts to set things right.
"From the Mississippi Delta," next Friday through Oct. 7 in Road Less Traveled Theatre, 639 Main St. 629-3069 or www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.
The life of Endesha Ida Mae Holland, the playwright and one-time University at Buffalo professor who died in 2006, was a complex and instructive one. She set down that life, which began in poverty in Mississippi and eventually intersected with the civil rights movement and later with the world of academia, in the play "From the Mississippi Delta." The Pulitzer-nominated 1987 play originated at Ujima Theatre before traveling to New York City in the late '80s. It is being remounted under the direction of Verneice Turner (who appeared in the original and New York productions) and Tim Kennedy.
"Mr. and Mrs. Nobody," next Friday through Oct. 13 in the New Phoenix Theatre, 95 Johnson Park. 853-1334.
New Phoenix artistic director Bob Waterhouse directs this play by his father, the late journalist, playwright and novelist Keith Waterhouse, which combines the 1892 comic novel "The Diary of a Nobody" with the elder Waterhouse's own comic fancies.
"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," next Friday through Sept. 29 in Buffalo Laboratory Theatre space in the Swan Auditorium at Hilbert College, 5200 South Park Ave. 202-9033 or www.buffalolabtheatre.org.
Perhaps one of the finest, most imaginative and accessible pieces of absurdism in the canon, this 1966 play by Tom Stoppard makes protagonists out of two minor characters from Shakespeare's "Hamlet." This production, directed by Paula Westinghouse, features BLT founder Taylor Doherty, Ray Boucher and Katie White.
"The Fox on the Fairway," next Friday through Sept. 29 in Kaleidoscope Theatre Productions space in the Lecture Hall Theatre at Medaille College, 18 Agassiz Circle. 479-1587.
Attention golf lovers: Ken Ludwig's recent farce, which makes light of "the stuffy denizens of a private country club," was designed specifically for you. It's directed by Keith Wharton and features Thomas LaChiusa, Lona Geiser LaChiusa and Geoff Pictor, among others.
"Roadkill," Thursday through Oct. 6 in Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley. 852-2600 or alleyway.com.
This play by Karen JP Howes is the latest winner of Alleyway's Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition. It takes place in a small diner which hosts "a series of surprising characters and mysterious goings-on." But there's just one catch: time moves in reverse and, according to a synopsis that seems as wacky as the play will likely turn out to be, "the fat lady in the bathroom won't open the door."
"The Guys," next Friday through Sept. 29 in the American Repertory Theatre of Western New York's space in the Church of the Ascension, 16 Linwood Ave. 884-4858 or www.artofwny.org.
ART is kicking off its season with this touching two-hander, last seen locally in a performance from Dan Lauria and Wendie Malick at Studio Arena Theatre in 2007. The show, by Anne Nelson, portrays an effort by a journalist and a New York City fire chief (played in this production by Victor Morales and Andrea Andolina) to write eulogies for first-responders who died during the Sept. 11 attacks.

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com