Story by ADRIANNE MURCHISON/Photos by JASON GETZ
Sandy Springs’ vision for a new city center has come into full bloom. The City Springs development is already home to a Saturday farmers market and the Food That Rocks tasting event that took place in June. But the centerpiece and crown jewel is the performing arts center, where there are quite a few surprises.
A homegrown theater company will present five musicals during the inaugural season running September through July. In addition, Atlanta Ballet, the Atlanta Opera and the Roswell Dance Theatre will grace the stage of the intimate 1,100-square-foot Byers Theater.
“We made an attempt to find events that are high quality and represent a wide variety of genres and entertainment,” says David Daly, director of programming.
An opening celebration of the performing arts center spans 12 days starting Aug. 7 and will include performances by Branford Marsalis, Broadway and TV star Sutton Foster, as well as Atlanta-based trumpeter Joe Gransden and his big band.
Classical music will take center stage in the coming months. Daly and his programming team have signed Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir, Boston Brass and critically acclaimed pianist Simone Dinnerstein, who is performing with cellist Matt Haimovitz.
“We want to see what our audience would be most attracted to,” Daly says. “The Atlanta entertainment market is extremely saturated and very competitive. There are some limitations on what we can afford to present [given our] limited seating.”
‘Regards to Broadway’
The venue is ideal for the entertainment they’ve booked, Daly adds. A main attraction is City Springs Theatre Company, an entity that came about after an impromptu suggestion at a good-bye lunch for a friend in the theater scene.
City Springs Theatre co-founders Jan Collins and Peggy and Jerry Stapleton are longtime Sandy Springs residents and supporters of Atlanta Lyric Theatre in Marietta. Last December, they learned that Lyric’s much-admired artistic director, Brandt Blocker, would be moving to Hong Kong.
For years, the trio had dreams of one day bringing Lyric to Sandy Springs. The theater company considered Sandy Springs before moving to Marietta from its Atlanta home, Collins says. With Blocker’s departure, their hopes were dashed.
“But during our good-bye lunch for Brandt, he said, ‘You all need to start your own theater company, ‘” Collins recalls. “It was so spontaneous.”
Blocker offered to be an advisor in the new venture and make fairly frequent returns to Sandy Springs. The founders jumped at the opportunity and named him executive/artistic director. Blocker grew Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s subscriptions substantially during his 10-year tenure. He’s regarded as a multi-award-winning artist in his native New Orleans, where he spearheaded productions and marketing for several theater companies.
His work is already paying off in Sandy Springs. Folks are buying season tickets for City Springs Theatre Company’s productions of “42nd Street,” “Elf the Musical,” “South Pacific,” “Billy Elliot” and “Hairspray.”
Early on, the goal was to sell 500 season tickets, Collins says. Instead, initial sales yielded 3,500 subscribers.
Most sales were by Sandy Springs residents, which City Springs Theatre targets.
“Of course we want others to come in,” Blocker says. “But we also want them to continue to support theaters in their own backyards, as well. We want to make sure that we all succeed.”
Mindful of nearby Act 3 Productions and Georgia Ensemble Theatre, Blocker says there’s an effort to schedule productions on dates that do not fall on days when other Northside venues have shows.
Shuler Hensley is City Springs Theatre Company’s associate artistic director. The Broadway, TV and film actor is a Marietta native. He’s currently portraying Sir Toby Belch in “The Twelfth Night” for Shakespeare in the Park in New York City.
The Marietta resident plays a role in deciding on City Springs’ musical productions, in addition to finding directors and actors. “I’ve always wanted to be involved in a new company from the ground up, and help to establish principles of the company,” Hensley says. His mother, Iris Hensley, is founder of Georgia Ballet.
Hensley envisions Sandy Springs as a regional theater hub where well-known New York actors, perhaps on a break from other projects, come down and perform in City Springs shows.
The new performing arts center and theater company gives high school students and young adult actors additional opportunities to perform locally. Hensley would like City Springs Theatre to be an avenue to help young, local actors land parts in New York. He is the namesake for the Shuler Awards, which honors excellence in Georgia high school musical theater, and performs with students during the annual awards show.
“There is really no difference in talent,” he says. “The kids in Georgia are just as talented [as New York]. The idea that you have to go to New York to make it … you can make it anywhere.”
The leadership and lineup of shows has the community energized, Daly says.
“I think it’s important to know that a lot of people have been watching this project with very close interest on programming to see what options they have,” Daly says. “And the theater company has certainly made a big splash.”
Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. 770-730-5600. citysprings.com
5 UPCOMING EVENTS
Branford Marsalis: Aug. 11
National Geographic Live featuring photographer Steve Winter: Aug. 14
Sutton Foster: Aug. 19
City Springs Theatre presents “42nd Street:” Sept. 14-23
Roswell Dance Theatre’s “The Nutcracker:” Nov.23-Dec. 2
*Natalie Barrow, City Springs Theatre Company’s managing director of education and outreach, is partnering with Atlanta arts organizations and national artists for Northside programs that benefit underserved youths and aspiring actors from pre-K to college. Some events might include young actors staging productions for senior centers, Barrow says. “We want to get kids on stage performing so they can explore that process,” she adds.
Barrow is the former director of arts education for Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre’s ArtsBridge Foundation.
*Pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s recent projects include her 2017 album “Mozart in Havana,” which she recorded in Cuba with the Havana Lyceum Orchestra.
A moving piano concerto written for Dinnerstein by composer Phillip Glass was recently recorded with A Far Cry ensemble. The album, “Circles: Piano Concertos by Bach + Glass,” is available on iTunes. The pianist performs “Concerto No. 3” with orchestras across the U.S. and internationally this year, including with the London Symphony Orchestra. simonedinnerstein.com
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