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September 30, 2010

A look at local theater offerings this season

NORTH TONAWANDA — Along with wilted leaves, coats and Buffalo Bills defeats, the launch of the local theater season are as sure a sign as there is that fall has arrived.

The three Tonawanda-area theater troupes share a desire to replicate the classics in their 2010-11 lineups. Following is a sampling of what’s in store.

Niagara Regional Theatre Guild

The guild will launch its 88th season in a new venue. After spending several seasons at Cardinal O’Hara High School, the guild is now at home at the newly christened Ellicott Creek Playhouse, on the grounds of the former St. Edmund School campus.

“O’Hara makes a lot of money on its bingo, and they wanted to expand bingo on the nights of our shows. So that took care of that,” said Ruth Lagace, the guild’s publicist. “We were kind of taken by surprise, but we do not blame them. The way things are going, they need the money.”

With that announcement coming in August, the guild had to “put on its running shoes” to find a home for this season, Lagace said. A series of phone calls led the guild to St. Edmund School, which now falls under the auspices of St. Christopher Parish and has been closed since the two parishes merged in 2007.

The guild’s production of “Oliver” on Saturday will be the first show performed under the guild’s new five-year lease with the parish. All things considered, Lagace considers the move a win-win situation.

“It does give a use to the building. Buildings deteriorate if there’s nothing in there,” she said. “They have a big cafeteria next to the theater, so we can have dinner theaters on site as opposed to having people drive from dinner to the theater.”

In addition to “Oliver,” the NRTG will stage the dramatic play “12 Angry Men” in November, the annual fundraiser revue “Broadway in Concert 11” in January, the musical “Jekyll & Hyde” in February and March, and the comedic farce “Blithe Spirit” in May.

Starry Night Theatre

Starry Night, which calls the Ghostlight Theatre in North Tonawanda its home, will open this season Oct. 7 with Agatha Christie’s murder mystery “The Mousetrap.” From there, the troupe will stage Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which director L. Don Swartz has altered three times over the troupe’s 25 years of performing it — albeit slightly.

“It sort of tells the whole story. It focuses more on Marley and Scrooge before Marley dies, so you know who Marley was and what he meant to Scrooge,” said Swartz, the longtime head of Starry Night who routinely introduces his own original works through the troupe. “But we don’t change much. Over the years, you get from the audience that they don’t you want to monkey with it too much because they know it and they like it.”

Thornton Wilde’s “Our Town” will then take the stage in February, followed by the dark comedy “Dearly Departed” in May.

“We did ‘Dearly Departed’ about 13 years ago,” said Swartz, who described the play as being about the funeral of the most-loathed man in town. “It’s our most-requested comedy. You shouldn’t be laughing, but you can’t help it because it’s so silly.”

Starry Night’s season will conclude with the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” in August.

“It’s kind of a season for audience favorites,” Swartz said.

Towne Players

The Towne Players will open this season by digging out a classic of their own when “Arsenic And Old Lace” takes the stage at the Sheridan-Parkside Community Center next month. The play was staged by the troupe 16 years ago and was personally requested by co-director Sandy Boczar.

“It’s going to be a combination of the play and the musical,” said Boczar, a Towne Players board member who said that some of the set pieces and performers are identical to the first performance in 1994. “We’re billing it as, ‘Come see the thrills, the chills and the laughs.’ ”

The show will wrap with a Halloween matinee to which audience members are encouraged to dress up in their costumes, said Glenn Jumper, the troupe’s president.

“We’ve never done anything like that before, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said.

From there, the Towne Players will in December stage “Butterfingers Angel,” which Jumper described as a satiric view on the Nativity. The troupe will then stage Ben Hecht’s “Twentieth Century” in February and March before concluding the season in May with “Play On,” a satire about a community theater group trying to put on a show while dealing with conflicting egos.

“With all of the things that are going on (in the world), we decided to do a series of comedies this season,” said Jumper, who noted that the troupe works with the Town of Tonawanda’s recreation department to maintain the troupe’s home base.

Also important this season was to stage family-friendly productions,” Boczar said.

“There will not be anything this season that any age group could be restricted from,” she said.

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