Sometime in the mid-1990s, Western New York’s theater scene started working out.
Then it picked up a little bit of muscle. Then it started entering competitions. And then, around 2000, it took the theatrical equivalent of steroids and has been growing – gloriously and improbably – ever since.
Now, as companies across the region prepare to lift the curtain on more than 20 productions this month – culminating on Sept. 19 with the annual Curtain Up! event – our theater community is punching far above its weight class. Legacy companies such as the Kavinoky Theatre, Irish Classical Theatre Company and MusicalFare Theatre remain strong and stalwart, while middleweights such as Road Less Traveled Productions, the New Phoenix Theatre and Subversive Theatre Company are making marked progress. And the young companies keep popping up, at least two or three a year, discouraged neither by the limited audience for their chosen art form nor the financial challenges of keeping a company afloat.
With no plateau in sight, the region’s 2014-15 theater season – heavy with recycled material but featuring plenty of new works and innovative interpretations as well – promises to be its biggest yet. We’ve compiled our special theater preview to help you wade through one of the busiest theater seasons in memory.
We’ve included a brief look at each of the 18 shows running as part of Curtain Up!, many of which open in the weeks preceding the event, as well as a full listing of all the 2014-’15 productions.
“The Grapes of Wrath”
Sept. 4 through Oct. 4
Subversive Theatre Collective’s Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Ave. (408-0499, www.subversivetheatre.org); $20 to $25.
John Steinbeck’s classic tale of the plight of migrant farm workers is directly up Subversive’s alley, and it is meeting the challenge with a huge cast of more than 25 actors directed by company favorite Gary Darling.
“The Drowsy Chaperone”
Sept. 10 through Oct. 12 in MusicalFare Theatre, 4380 Main St., Amherst (839-8539, www.musicalfare.com); $42.
A kooky musical par excellence, this breathless paean to musical theater began as a small project in Toronto and grew into one of the more charming Broadway success stories of the past two decades.
Sept. 11 through Oct. 4 in American Repertory Theater of Western New York’s ART in the Box Theater, 16 Linwood Ave. (634-0837, www.artofwny.org); $12 to $25.
American Repertory Theater founder Matthew LaChiusa is taking on this 1994 musical by his brother, the famed Broadway composer Michael John LaChiusa, which is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s play “La Ronde.”
Sept. 11 through Oct. 11 in Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley (852-2600, www.alleyway.com); $13 to $25.
This comedy by Rich Orloff, whose work was last produced by the Alleyway in the late ’90s, involves a hilarious clash between “a proselytizing preacher and a tantalizing temptress.”
Sept. 12 through Oct. 12 in the Road Less Traveled Theatre, 639 Main St. (629-3069, www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org); $17 to $35.
Most people recognize Ira Levin as the author of the chilling “Rosemary’s Baby,” but he also penned this long-running Broadway thriller, which is packed with enough twists and turns to keep audiences guessing.
“Fiddler on the Roof”
Sept. 12 through Sept. 28 in the Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Ave., Lancaster (683-1776, www.lancopera.org); $24 to $26.
The Lancaster Opera House’s musical mastermind David Bondrow is pulling out all the stops for this classic musical about the Jewish experience in Eastern Europe.
“Over the Tavern”
Sept. 12 through Oct. 5 in the Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Ave. (829-7668, www.kavinokytheatre.com); $35 to $39.
Perhaps the most beloved play in Buffalo’s modern history, this production of Tom Dudzick’s heartwarming tale about an irresistible Buffalo family will be directed by the playwright.
“All Quiet on the Western Front”
Sept. 18 through Oct. 12 in New Phoenix Theatre, 95 Johnson Park (853-1334, www.newphoenixtheatre.org); $15 to $25.
The first in a spate of plays marking the 100th anniversary of World War I, Bob Waterhouse directs this theatrical adaptation of German soldier Erich Maria Remarque’s harrowing tale of life in the trenches.
Sept. 18 through Oct. 12 in Torn Space Theater, 612 Fillmore Ave. (812-5733, www.tornspacetheater.com); $25.
Playwright Frank Wedekind’s unhinged character Lulu takes the stage in this challenging exploration of the primal nature of women.
“Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks”
Sept. 18 through Oct. 19 in O’Connell & Company’s Theater in the Park School, 4625 Harlem Road, Snyder (848-0800, www.oconnellandcompany.com); $18 to $25.
A touching culture clash is at the center of this potentially tear-inducing comedy, which tells the story of a Florida retiree and her younger dance instructor working out their issues in dance lessons.
“Ain’t We Got Fun!”
Sept. 19 in Shea’s Smith Theatre, 658 Main St. (847-0850, www.sheas.org); $30.
Cabaret singer Robert Creighton drops into Buffalo for one night to perform this breezy collection of songs from the early 20th century.
“Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire”
Sept. 19 through 27 in a Buffalo United Artists Theatre production in the Main Street Cabaret, 1 Curtain Up Alley (886-9239, www.buffalobua.org); $15 to $25.
A huge hit last year, this alternately riotous and contemplative solo show features Buffalo United Artists favorite Jimmy Janowski as Tennessee Williams’ famous character trapped in the nightmare of post-Katrina New Orleans.
“Bourbon at the Border”
Sept. 19 through Oct. 12 in Ujima Theatre’s TheatreLoft, 545 Elmwood Ave. (883-0380, www.ujimacoinc.org); $15 to $25.
Pearl Cleage’s play, produced in part to mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act’s passage, focuses on civil rights activists during the 1960s and the horrors and challenges of their era.
Sept. 19 through Oct. 4 in Buffalo Laboratory Theatre at William Swan Auditorium, Hilbert College, 5200 South Park Ave., Hamburg (202-9033, www.buffalolabtheatre.org); $15 to $25.
Teen suicide from bullying is center stage in this play by Johnna Adams about a family’s search for answers in the wake of the title character’s tragic death.
Sept. 19 through Oct. 12 in the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St. (853-4282, www.irishclassical.com); $39.
An Irish theater company producing an American interpretation of a French adaptation of Spanish-American playwright’s farcical look at Parisian culture? Sign the Irish Classical up for that one.
“Seth’s Big Fat Broadway Show”
Sept. 19 in 710 Main Theatre, 710 Main St. (847-0850 or www.sheas.org/710main); $39.
After an ecstatic reception in the 710 Main Theatre in 2012, YouTube personality and Broadway superfan Seth Rudetsky returns with his cheeky show riffing on the beauty and absurdity of his beloved art form.
Sept. 19 through Oct. 12 in Theatre of Youth’s Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen St. (884-4400, www.theatreofyouth.org); $26 to $28.
Dr. Seuss’ whimsical characters come to life through the songs of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty in this kid-friendly musical of wacky proportions.
“Shake Em On Down: A New Blues Opera”
Sept. 19 through Oct. 12 in the Paul Robeson Theatre, African American Cultural Center, 350 Masten Ave. (884-2013, www.aaccbuffalo.org); $15 to $25.
This world premiere “blues opera” was written by R. Skye Kamiyo and, according to a release from the Paul Robeson Theatre, charts “a woman’s quest to find answers in an age-old place of shadowy figures and mystery.”