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Atlanta's theater scene revs up for fall 

A round-up of intriguing plays

Even for theaters that program their shows based on the calendar year, autumn frequently features the biggest shows most likely to please audiences. In addition to the highlights mentioned elsewhere in this issue, here's a rundown of some intriguing-sounding plays up until Thanksgiving.

Theatrical Outfit mounts Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Sept. 10-Oct. 5), a Tony winner featuring the roots music of Roger Miller, at the Balzer Theater. The company's largest production to date, Big River boasts a 24-member combined cast and band with the inspired selection of perpetually youthful actor Brandon O'Dell as Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain's archetypal ne'er-do-well. Additional performers include Glenn Rainey, and choreographer Jeff McKerley and artistic director Tom Key, both doing double duty onstage and behind the scenes. Theatrical Outfit revisits Southern race relations later this fall with A Lesson Before Dying (Oct. 29-Nov. 23), based on Ernest J. Gaines' popular novel set in 1940s Louisiana.

The same weekend as Big River, Horizon Theatre offers Altar Boyz (Sept. 12-Nov. 16), a tongue-in-cheek musical performed as a concert by an N'Sync-style Christian boy band: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham (played by Josh Rhett Noble, Jacob Wood, Ronvee O'Daniel, Ricardo Aponte and Andy Meeks). According to artistic director Lisa Adler, Altar Boyz features more choreography than any other show in the playhouse's history.

The Alliance Theatre partners with Chicago's famed improv troupe, the Second City, to spend a night finding humor in Atlanta life in the world premiere The Second City: Too Busy to Hate, Too Hard to Commute (Sept. 19-Oct. 26 on the Hertz Stage). Atlanta actors Amy Roeder and Tim Stoltenberg join the cast of out-of-towners (Anthony Irons, Michael Lehrer, Robyn Norris and Ric Walker) for an original revue about the ATL's ups and downs, written and created by the Second City cast. With famous alumni including Steve Carell, Bill Murray and Tina Fey, the Second City may be America's most famous and respected comedy company, but can so many non-Atlantans really find the city's heart?

After the erotic thriller Finn and the Underworld (closing Oct. 4), Actor's Express shifts into its comical mode with The New Century (Oct. 23-Nov. 22), Paul Rudnick's comedy about a wealthy Jewish matron, a public-access TV host and a Midwestern scrapbooker having a madcap Manhattan adventure. Directed by Alan Kilpatrick, The New Century features three of Atlanta's funniest actors – Shelly McCook, LaLa Cochran and Don Finney – who should be the ideal mouthpieces for Rudnick's trademark one-liners and give the Second City some sharp competition.

Little Five Points' edgy playhouse 7 Stages presents a pair of classic works, both directed by artistic director Del Hamilton. First is an adaptation of The Little Prince (Sept. 27-Oct. 26), the classic children's book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Portia Cue plays the title regent of the diminutive planet, with John Benzinger portraying the Aviator. Next, 7 Stages works together with the University of Georgia for a co-production of Edward Albee's corrosive landmark play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Oct. 18-Nov. 2). UGA faculty members Ray Paolino and Kristin Kundert star as George and Martha, and students Jonathan Phipps and Ruth Crews play the hapless young couple. Given the story's academic setting, co-producing the show with a university makes a lot of sense.

The Center for Puppetry Arts lets its creativity run wild every Halloween, and this year the company revisits its seasonal hit for the past two years, The Ghastly Dreadfuls' Compendium of Graveyard Tales and Other Curiosities by Jon Ludwig and Jason von Hinezmeyer. Two of the Center's brightest talents, Ludwig and Hinezmeyer offer a brand-new grab bag of spooky stories and songs in The Ghastly Dreadfuls II: Handbook of Practical Hauntings and Other Phantasmagoria (Oct. 16-Nov. 1). It's unquestionably one of this fall's must-sees.

The season features fewer political plays than you'd expect in an election year. Theatre in the Square offers a notable exception with Looking Over the President's Shoulder (Sept. 28-Nov. 9), a one-man show starring Barry Scott. Playwright James Still adapted My 21 Years at the White House, the memoir by Alonzo Fields, an aspiring opera singer who became a White House butler for the Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations. Atlanta-based playwright Lauren Gunderson offers a smaller-scale spoof of the political process at Dad's Garage Top Shelf with Class (Oct. 10-Nov. 3), a look at school elections starring Alison Hastings and Theroun Patterson.

Synchronicity Performance Group presents Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter (Sept. 12-Oct. 12), playwright Julie Marie Myatt's account of a soldier who wrestles with her demons when she returns from a tour of duty in Iraq. Out of Hand Theater stages one-week remounts of self-help satire Help (Sept. 18-21) and pharmaceutical fantasia Meds (Sept. 24-27), both at Onstage Atlanta.

Finally, Full Circle, the Alliance Theatre's two-play/one-cast repertory of August Wilson's The Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf, is probably the fall's most ambitious production. A close second, however, would be The Henry Series, the Shakespeare Tavern's monthlong series of Shakespeare's rarely produced Henry VI plays that dramatize the War of the Roses. Artistic director Jeff Watkins directs the trilogy, with Henry VI Part 1 opening Nov. 7, Part 2 opening Nov. 14, Part III opening Nov. 21 and all three running the weekend of Nov. 28. Incidentally, the Henry VI cycle technically concludes with Richard III, and Watkins says he may stage that play next season. You can only fit so much into one autumn.

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