Five for fall: Curtains up for Atlanta theater

Alliance Theatre’s Susan V. Booth is celebrating her 10th season with a production of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” Georgia Shakespeare’s Richard Garner is celebrating the Tennessee Williams centenary by mounting the playwright’s luminous memory play, “The Glass Menagerie.” Actor’s Express’ Freddie Ashley is celebrating the return of his theater from the brink of financial collapse with the  sexy Broadway rock musical “Spring Awakening.” Theatrical Outfit’s Tom Key is celebrating the importance of “The Green Book” to the history of the Jim Crow era, with the world premiere of Calvin Alexander Ramsey's play of the same name. And fans of the popular musical “Wicked,” which cleverly sets up the story of “The Wizard of Oz,” are celebrating its third visit to the Fox Theatre.

Here’s a look at a handful of fall’s most promising theater events.

Theatrical Outfit: “The Green Book”

It is 1953. Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois is coming to town, and a Jefferson City, Mo., couple whose home is listed in "The Green Book" end up hosting a kind of impromptu political debate for a group of travelers wanting to see the eminent African-American. This is the impulse behind Atlanta writer Calvin Alexander Ramsey's play, "The Green Book," inspired by the historically important, Jim Crow-era document in which sympathetic citizens advertised their homes as safe havens for African-American travelers. Through the course of the play, the titular book becomes a catalyst for conflict and transformation: Some resent the need for it; others want to profit from it. According to Theatrical Outfit director Tom Key, the play is a perfect fit for the downtown theater, because Ramsey is "aligned with our purposes to be a steward of the stories, history, literature and music of the American South." Tonight-Sept. 11. $15-$35. Theatrical Outfit, Balzer Theater at Herren's, 84 Luckie St., Atlanta. 678-528-1500;

Actor’s Express: “Spring Awakening”

Many theaters, in recovery from a perilous cash crunch, would choose to play it safe. Maybe a solo show or a two-hander. Not Actor's Express. As the theater continues its financial stabilization effort, artistic director Freddie Ashley is opening the season with "Spring Awakening," a musical with a big cast and challenging subject matter (teen sex, suicide and drug use, for example). Ashley feels it's worth it. "I think it's important in the toughest times to articulate all the more aggressively who you are artistically and why you matter in your own unique way," he says. "And from a business perspective, it's certainly a risk to do a big musical on the heels of an emergency fund-raising campaign, but it's a very calculated risk, given the anticipated revenue that a show like 'Spring Awakening' can generate." For the Steven Slater/Duncan Sheik work that won the 2007 Tony Award for best new musical, Ashley is using a dewy young ensemble, including Jordan Craig (who recently interned at Georgia Shakespeare) as Melchior and Kylie Brown as his lover, Wendla. Aug. 25-Oct. 1. $15-$42. Actor's Express, 887 West Marietta St., Suite J-107, Atlanta. 404-607-7469;

Georgia Shakespeare: “The Glass Menagerie”

Producing artistic director Richard Garner thinks Tennessee Williams' semi-autobiographical drama, with its iron-fisted matriarch and damaged daughter and son, is one of the best plays by the author, who would have been 100 this year. "I really, really love the intensely personal nature of it," Garner says. "The longings and yearnings in the play are so pervasive they are palpable. Even though it's not fully autobiographical … he draws so artfully on three real lives to create Tom, Laura and Amanda that you just feel like you know what these people want out of life – even if you know they won't find it." Garner wasn't sure who he would cast as Amanda — until he auditioned Atlanta actress Mary Lynn Owen. "She nailed the essence of the woman, the fragile flower and the cracked psyche as well as the fierce defender of her family." Joe Knezevich, a Georgia Shakespeare player at the top of his game, will play Tom, and Bethany Ann Lind, one of the city's busiest young actresses, will play Laura. Oct. 6-30. $15-$45. Georgia Shakespeare, Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road, Atlanta.  404-504-1473;

Alliance Theatre: “Into the Woods”

When Alliance Theatre Artistic Director Susan V. Booth decided to open the season with Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's fairy-tale pastiche, she felt that youngsters belonged in the picture. So she approached the authors about her idea of using a youth orchestra. "Mr. Sondheim and James Lapine were good enough to think, 'You know what?  We think that's a really good idea." And so there are going to be young people playing this score." Through a collaboration with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, young musicians from around the region were auditioned. On the design side, expect an opulently framed, Broadway-scale production of the magical tale of witches and haunted forests. Aug. 31-Oct. 2. $25-$65. Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-5000;

Fox Theatre: “Wicked”

Glinda is the pretty blond with the fabulous wardrobe. But will she get the boy — or will green-skinned Elphaba? You will understand why the Wicked Witch of the West has issues if you see this wildly "Popular" Broadway spectacle, based on the novel by Gregory Maguire. With music by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, with its superb special effects, costumes and sets, "Wicked" inevitably casts its spell. The national tour, which is visiting the Fox Theatre for the third time and runs for three weeks, stars Dee Roscioli as Elphaba and Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda. Sept. 14-Oct. 9. $45-$165. Presented by Broadway Across America-Atlanta. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-881-2000;