As anyone who closely follows New York theater will tell you, there's never a dearth of exciting shows to see in the city. In fact, in recent years, with the advent of festivals such as the Midtown International Theatre Festival and the New York International Fringe Festival, even the summer months are hardly bereft of interesting offerings. If September's status as the unofficial "beginning" of the theater season is no longer so easily determined, there are plenty of shows opening this month of interest to the New York theatergoer.

First, and perhaps most important to followers of one of America's few indigenous art forms, is the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Running from September 13 to October 3, it will feature productions of 31 new musicals playing in 19 different venues, 14 concerts, a movie musical screening series, panel discussions with industry leaders, and much more. This will be your first chance to catch new shows by such heavy-hitters as Stephen Schwartz and Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, as well as hear some exciting new voices for the first time.

Aside from the Festival, there are a number of other musicals on offer: The First (and Last) Musical on Mars, about a man who is captured by Martians and must write a musical to escape the Red Planet, starts its run on September 13; Fringical!: A Fringical!!, a spoof of Fringe Festival musicals, starts on September 16; and Opening Doors, a Stephen Sondheim revue, begins its two-week run on September 30. In addition, there are three one-time only events musical-lovers won't want to miss: "Broadway on Broadway" 2004, on Sunday, September 12; the Actors' Fund benefit concert of the classic Gerome Ragni/James Rado/Galt MacDermot musical Hair on Monday, September 20; and Broadway Unplugged, on September 27, will see some of the greatest of today's Broadway stars singing new and classic show tunes without amplification.

If musicals aren't really your thing, there are also tons of plays to choose from. Walking to America, which starts at the 78th Street Theatre Lab on September 2, tells the story of a young Honduran boy who spent two years traveling over 2400 miles through four countries to reach America. There's also the Signature Theatre Company's star-studded production of Paula Vogel's The Oldest Profession; this story about a group of aging prostitutes finding their way in the early years of the Ronald Reagan presidency stars Marylouise Burke, Carlin Glynn, Katherine Helmond, Priscilla Lopez, and Joyce Van Patten. At the Producers' Club, Robert Marese's The Fallen 9/11 opens on September 16; it examines the tragic events of September 11, 2001 through the experiences of an injured Manhattan attorney and a New York City firefighter. The Atlantic Theater company will be presenting playwright Tina Howe's new translations of The Bald Soprano and The Lesson; the shows open on September 19. And New York Theatre Workshop's production of the Henrik Ibsen classic Hedda Gabler, which will be directed by Ivo van Hove, opens on September 21.

If you prefer more unusual fare, there's plenty of that on offer as well. Slava's Snowshow is currently in previews for a September 8 opening; one of the world's most renowned clowns is stirring up flurries of excitement -- and just plain flurries -- inside the Union Square Theatre. Also in previews, and scheduled to open on September 16, is an expanded version of puppeteer Basil Twist's extravaganza -- complete with a 500-gallon water tank -- Symphonie Fantastique, at the brand-new Dodger Stages. Karen Finley brings her latest work, a political satire called George & Martha (about Bush and Stewart, in case you were wondering), to the Collective: Unconscious theater complex on September 17. Downtown favorites Kiki and Herb will grace Carnegie Hall for one night only September 19 with their show, Kiki & Herb Will Die For You.