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Curtain Up! Let the shows begin! 24th annual celebration launches theater season with cocktails, performances and camaraderie

An earlier sunset, crisp late summer night and downtown Buffalo buzzing with hundreds of women in evening gowns and tuxedo-clad men can mean only one thing -- another theater season is under way.

The 24th annual Curtain Up! officially relighted theater stages throughout the Theater District on Friday in a night many say is uniquely Buffalo.

"My husband has always said that 'Buffalo isn't a city, it's one large cocktail party,' and tonight is a perfect exhibition of that," said Sheila London, wearing a formal dress and escorted by her husband, Leonard, outside Shea's Performing Arts Center.

Added the dapper, bow-tie wearing London: "It's a wonderful transition from summer into fall, . . . and Buffalo is such a small community, where else can you go in the country and see so many people you know?"

Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres outdoors preceded the traditional Curtain Up! gala dinner on Shea's stage to kick off the festivities.

From there, theater-goers fanned out into a dozen venues. After the shows came live entertainment and revelry on Main Street late into the evening.

The buzz this year surrounded newly renovated Alleyway Theatre. The 1940s building that first housed a Greyhound bus terminal got a nearly three-year, $1.5 million facelift that has turned it into a showpiece for the Theater District.

The return of theater brings back the vibrancy of downtown, organizers said.

"It's exciting because it's another event that highlights the positive attributes of our city, and I think the community embraces that. . . . We need that now," said Lisa Grisanti, marketing manager for Shea's and publicity chairwoman for Curtain Up!

Added Bill Schroeder, marketing director for Studio Arena Theatre: "It's the beginning of the business season. The theaters feed the parking lots, the restaurants and the nightlife."

Schroeder says conventional wisdom suggests Buffalo's population probably could not sustain a dozen theaters. Still, it works here. And that, he says, is a testament to the richness of the city's culture.

"No matter who you are, there's a theater that suits you and a story you can relate to," Schroeder said. "You can wear your tux or you can wear your jeans; this night's for everyone."

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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