Theatre Around Town

by Randall KRAMER

The month of February brings with it the fourth production in the 2004/2005 season of many local theatre companies. By now most companies have a pretty good idea how their season is progressing. As a matter of fact, many of us are already finalizing plans for our 2005/2006 seasons. Often times these plans are affected by the successes and… um…for lack of a better word…"misdirections" (i.e. failures) of this year's shows. So, as if it isn't hard enough for companies to predict how many people will attend a given show (and therefore what should be budgeted for each), they also have to make that prediction anywhere from 7 - 15 months ahead of time! That explains the bond between theatre folk. Misery loves company.

But any misery onstage in February is purely intentional! At the Irish Classical Theatre Company George and Martha, the two main characters in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, continue to inflict misery on their two dinner guests through February 13. Opening February 4 at Ujima Theatre is the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Topdog/Underdog. Author Suzan Lori-Parks takes the harsh and profane street lingo of two brothers living in a cramped apartment and turns it into poetry in this Western New York premiere. The misery of prejudice in Texas in the 1960s is explored through the murder of a young black boy in the Paul Robeson's production of American Menu, opening Feb. 11. At Studio Arena Theatre, Tuesdays With Morrie, opening Feb. 6, is supposedly about an older man battling a fatal disease. But this story, which stars local actor and Western New York treasure, Manny Fried, is really about living. Based on the popular book, this production is sure to be one of the hits of the Studio Arena season.

Elsewhere there is plenty of diverse theatrical activity. A stage adaptation of the popular children's book, Miss Nelson is Missing, is at the Theatre of Youth through February 13. At Buffalo United Artists, Making Gay History, adapted by local writer Matthew Crehan Higgins, is onstage through Feb. 12. O'Connell and Company presents Listen to My Heart: The Songs of David Freidman starting Feb. 17. At the Alleyway Theatre, Big Happy, whose title character "bounces around inside the gray matter of a multi-faceted individual" continues through Feb. 20. (Just goes to prove that there are truly no limits to the imagination of the theatre!) The end of the month brings us two very different but emotionally charged musicals. At MusicalFare, The Spitfire Grill opens Feb. 24. Adapted from the popular movie, The Spitfire Grill, it was hailed by the New York Times as "a compelling story that flows with grace and carries the rush of anticipation." Also on Feb. 24, The Lion King begins its six week run at Shea's Performing Arts Center. If you haven't seen the show in New York or Toronto, take the family to see this classic.

So somehow I started writing about misery and ended up with musicals about hope. In between there was an old guy dieing who teaches us to live and a title character living inside someone's brain. Not to mention two hustling brothers, a missing school teacher, a murdered young black boy, an ex con who teaches an entire town about grace and hope, and the circle of life. I guess that's the beauty of the theatre. You can find in it anything you want. Just go out there and give it a try.

Randall Kramer is the Artistic and Executive Director of MusicalFare Theatre, a leading musical theatre company in the Northeast.

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