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When newspaper columnist Mitch Albom's book "Tuesdays with Morrie" was released in 1997, it almost immediately became part of the American vernacular. Since then, Albom's autobiographical tale about the lessons he learned from his ailing former college professor has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide and has been adapted into a film and play.

A local production of that play, which has become a favorite of regional and community theater companies across the United States, opens at 7:30 tonight in the Niagara Regional Theatre Guild's Ellicott Creek Playhouse (530 Ellicott Creek Road, Town of Tonawanda). Albom's story, beloved of avid and casual theatergoers alike, draws from his own experience reconnecting with his former sociology professor during weekly visits where he learned lessons about life and death as his mentor's health declines.

Longtime newspaperman Doug Smith a former editor at the Courier-Express and The News who continues to write zippy theater reviews for the Niagara Gazette and elsewhere will take on the title role of Albom's beloved play for NRTG for the second time in four years. He'll be joined on stage by M. Joseph Fratello, a Niagara University graduate who has appeared in the company's recent productions of "Jekyll and Hyde," "Broadway in Concert" and "Into the Woods."

Tickets to the production, which runs through Nov. 18, are $10 to $14. Call 284-6358 or visit www.niagaratheatre.com.

Colin Dabkowski