"Noises Off," a meta-farce about a theater troupe's disaster of a show, opens on Friday at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in downtown Anoka.

The comedy, which runs through Sept. 27, kicks off the community theater's 2012-13 season.

It's well written and funny, making it an actor's dream to be cast in it, but it's a challenge to pull off, said managing director Laura Tahja Johnson.

For starters, the play involves a rotating set that takes the audience to a chaotic dress rehearsal backstage and to performances of the fictional theater troupe.

It demonstrates that "we're maturing as a company," Johnson said. In planning the season, "we made some bold choices."

Lyric Arts is tackling several shows with mature themes and others that are technically demanding, alongside the more family-friendly crowd-pleasers that it's known for.

The show list includes comedies, dramas, musicals, and classic and contemporary plays. "Every year it's a balancing act, to try to find the best mix," Johnson said.

Something for everyone

Following "Noises Off" is the dark thriller "Dracula" in October. Compared with the movie treatment of "Dracula," the script stays true to the Bram Stoker novel, production manager Joanna Diem said.

It's about unfulfilled desire and revenge, taboo topics of the time, she said, and it's apropos for Halloween. Plenty of lighting, sound effects and props help build suspense, and she warns, "There will be blood."

Next is the often-requested musical "Annie," which Lyric Arts last mounted at its old location known as the Pocket Theater in 2000.

Then, the interactive, kid-friendly mystery "The Further Adventures of Nick Tickle Fairy Tale Detective" will bring to life recognizable fairy tale characters.

Providing a change of pace is "Becky's New Car," a contemporary play about a woman who is having a midlife crisis. She realizes she doesn't have it that bad, but she still wants something more, Diem said. "We take a ride with her as she comes to a fork in the road."

Afterward, the theater is staging the musical "Hello, Dolly!" and the profound drama "Death of a Salesman."

Later on is "How I Became a Pirate," a musical based on the popular children's book by the same title. Also on a high note is "Barefoot in the Park," a nostalgic show centering on a married couple that must contend with annoying in-laws and neighbors.

And rounding out the season is the colorful musical "Hairspray," about a "big girl with a big heart."

"I don't know how we can top this season," Diem said. "It really shows you what Lyric Arts is."

Opening night galas, Anoka County Library-sponsored "Page and Stage" events in which theatergoers read scripts in advance to prepare for pre-show discussions, plus talkbacks, will once again be a part of the season, according to Diem.

Also, "Music in the 'Burbs," an acoustic concert series featuring standout Minnesota artists, returns to the theater for the third year.

Another set of eyes

To help maintain consistent artistic quality, the theater has brought in a couple of directors-in-residence, which is new this year.

Scott Ford and Robert Neu, both of whom are familiar faces at Lyric Arts, will individually direct two shows and mentor guest directors as a part of a two-year commitment.

For himself personally, Neu said, "I always like to have another set of eyes, to see if what I think is happening is happening."

"Directing can be a lonely job," he said. "You can lose objectivity."

Plus, getting to see other directors at work is a rare treat. "We don't usually get a chance to compare notes," he said.

Director-in-residence Scott Ford said, "I really am a big-time Lyric Arts believer," adding, "It's doing great things."

He's glad to be a part of a "dynamic organization that's growing in terms of the audience and its footprint in the community."

Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.