When Oscar-winning composer David Shire called up the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra last year to inquire about playing a date with the group, the person who initially answered the phone had never heard of him.
"I figured my era had passed," Shire, a Buffalo native, said in a recent interview at Studio Arena Theatre.
But after local actress and director Mary Kate O'Connell caught wind of the BPO slight, she immediately set up a meeting with BPO brass and got Shire a date in January, which he played to great fanfare.
Now, it seems, Shire's new era in Buffalo is just getting started. Tonight, Studio Arena mounts the East Coast premiere of "A Time for Love: Songs From a Marriage," a new musical by Shire and his longtime songwriting partner, lyricist Richard Maltby Jr.
The pair's new musical is a collection of their songs -- some old, some written expressly for the show -- that chronicle the life of a married couple played by Lois Robbins and Brian Sutherland. That marriage might as well be between Buffalo and the songwriting pair, as the production marks the latest in a sort of Maltby and Shire renaissance that has recently materialized in Western New York.
First, there was Maltby's jukebox musical "Ring of Fire," a smash hit at Studio Arena that was later widely panned on Broadway. Then there was a series of events with Shire, who returned to perform at the Nichols School -- his alma mater -- in 2006 and later with the BPO.
This time around, Studio Arena is back in on the game, producing a show that Creative Director and CEO Kathleen Gaffney said will strengthen the bond between the city and its beloved songwriting team.
"David is Buffalo's fair-haired boy -- more fair-haired than usual," said Maltby, "so it's funny that I would have a success in Buffalo as well, so I could join him."
Maltby, who has directed a number of shows, including Broadway's "Ain't Misbehavin' " and "Fosse," said he was surprised when he first directed his own songs. ("A Time for Love" won't be directed by Maltby, but by the show's co-creator, Joel Silberman.)
"I was startled, absolutely startled, at how devious they are, how many times the music is sort of bouncy and happy, and the words seem to be, and the song is really about the feeling of some incredible pain," Maltby said.
The pair characterizes its work as inherently about the contradictions involved in relationships and the emotions they evoke.
"You couldn't make up anything as complex and amazing as the thoughts that people have and the lives that they lead," Maltby said. "People are just able to deal with contradictions and complexities, sometimes with great humor and sometimes with humor and tears at the same time."
WHAT: "A Time for Love: Songs From a Marriage"
WHEN: Opens at 8 tonight and runs through May 13
WHERE: Studio Arena Theatre, 710 Main St.
TICKETS: $26 to $54
INFO: 856-5650, (800) 77-STAGE or www.studioarena.org