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BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT <br> CURTAIN UP! <br> PUTS GLITTER <br> DOWNTOWN

Trying to recover from debilitating grief, thousands poured into the Theater District on Friday night for an event that is uniquely Buffalo: the 20th annual Curtain Up!

All 10 theaters participating in the event were sold out.

Clad in tuxedos or satin and sequin gowns, patrons celebrated the kickoff of the region's theater season with festivities that lasted into the early morning.

Earlier in the night, more than 700 people packed into a tent in Fountain Plaza for a sold-out black-tie dinner that cost $75 per seat.

The night of entertainment celebrated a milestone in the theater community and gave Western New Yorkers the opportunity to shake the blues brought on by the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

"Even though our nation has suffered a tragic blow, it's important that we go on expressing ourselves through our cultural and dramatic institutions," said Mayor Anthony M. Masiello. "The arts give us peace of mind."

Many responded to his call for a return to normalcy with thunderous applause and the Market Arcade crowd buzzed with excitement during the prologue.

All the participating theaters started performances at 8:30 p.m., a coordinated multi-venue opening which organizers said is only done in Buffalo.

"To my knowledge this doesn't happen anywhere else in the country, or the world for that matter, where a theater community opens with the same curtain time," said Neil Radice, one of the event's organizers and Alleyway Theatre's artistic director.

After the theatrical performances, dancers and bands entertained the crowd for hours along Main Street.

To mark the 20th anniversary of Curtain Up!, a fireworks display was added to the line-up of festivities.

Michael Pitek started the event in 1982 to draw people back to the district after it lost patrons due to the Metro Rail construction along Main Street. He said Curtain Up! has evolved into a cultural event that has earned a permanent place on the community's calendar.

Amid construction, the event was sold out, drawing 450 people its first year. This year, at least 6,000 were expected to attend.

"It's gratifying to see the event's still going strong," Pitek said. "It shows that theater is part of the fabric of this community."

Pitek added that the corporate sponsorship of the event by M&T Bank for the past 19 years has contributed to its longevity.

"We knew we had to have a corporate sponsor for it to grow," he said. "They have been solidly behind the event."

Kate Masiello, the mayor's wife -- who performed Friday night in "Diva By Diva," along with daughter Ariel, who celebrated her eighth birthday as well -- said the event occurred at the perfect time.

"It's great that everybody came out to support the 20th year of Curtain Up!" she said.

"It's also a good way for people to connect. People are really looking to connect again."

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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