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New theater company christens new Sandy Springs performance space

A new theater in the artfully-designed downtown of Sandy Springs will help the young city develop a destination for visitors. It will also give rise to the metro area’s newest professional theater company.

Construction on the Performing Arts Center at City Springs is expected to be complete by June, and the center has already booked its first theatrical engagements: performances of “42nd Street” by the  City Springs Theatre Company.

An artist’s rendition shows what the new Performing Arts Center at City Springs will look like upon completion in June. Image: courtesy city of  Sandy Springs

City Springs Theatre comes into being with public and philanthropic support, and through the talents of a distinguished trio of founding officers: artistic director Brandt Blocker, associate artistic director Shuler Hensley and managing director Natalie Barrow.

It will be the resident theater company of the Performing Arts Center at City Springs, which will also host performances by the Atlanta Ballet and the Atlanta Opera.

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Hensley, a Tony-award-winning Marietta native, who has just finished putting on the ritz in a London revival of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” is the namesake of the Shuler Hensley Georgia High School Musical Theatre Awards.

Those awards are given in April, and bring together young actors and singers from all over Georgia.

“It’s been a dream of mine to be involved in creating a musical theater company from the ground up,” said Hensley. The giant-sized actor will be charged with fashioning a highway between Sandy Springs and Broadway, bringing talent down south for City Springs performances and sending performers up north to expand their careers.

Opening number of the Georgia High School Musical Theater Awards with Shuler Hensley

He is joined by Blocker, for 10 years the managing artistic director of the Atlanta Lyric Theatre, and Barrow, former director of arts education and community outreach for ArtsBridge Foundation at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

“This will be part of Shuler’s legacy,” said Blocker. “Having him as a partner, and as a conduit to Broadway, helps to bolster our performing arts scene, and helps performers with an opportunity for networking.”

The arts center is part of the 14-acre planned downtown in Sandy Springs, with city offices, businesses, restaurants, residential housing and green space. The center features the 1,070-seat Byers Theatre and a 350-seat studio theater.

The larger proscenium theater is named in honor of Ken and Tricia Byers, donors of a $2.5 million gift to the Sandy Springs Foundation, including $500,000 to establish the theater company. The company has also begun fund-raising, and has raised close to $300,000 on its own, Blocker said.

The 2018-2019 season will begin with “42nd Street,” Sept. 14-23; “Elf, the Musical,” Dec. 7-16; “South Pacific,” March 8-17, 2019 (directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Baayork Lee); “Billy Elliott the Musical,” May 3-12, 2019; and “Hairspray,” July 12-21, 2019.

Tickets go on sale early this year

Information: 404-477-4365; CitySpringsTheatre.com

Hensley said that at some point in the future he will jump in as an actor or director in City Springs productions. He added that inaugurating the company and the performance space with classic musical theater productions, such as “South Pacific,” is a great way to bond with the community.

“Not only are they classic because of the music but because the stories are timeless,” he said. “You can still relate to that.”

Blocker, who returned from a sojourn in Hong Kong to help get the new company off the ground, said, “The ability to create and educate in a first-class facility in the heart of Sandy Springs is a dream come true.”

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