“We are very excited,” said the Lyric’s artistic director and general manager, Brandt Blocker, on the new yet-to-be-disclosed performance venue.
Yet Shillings on the Square restaurant owner Dave Reardon is upset about the Lyric moving out the Strand.
“It’s going to hurt my business immensely,” Reardon said. “It brings the right kind of crowd to the Square.”
Blocker said the new venue will allow the Lyric to continue performing the musicals the way his audience wants.
“We do very grand-scale musicals, and this venue will allow us to continue to do so, so we’re very excited about that, and we’re very excited about its proximity to the Square,” Blocker said.
The Lyric entered into a five-year contract that expires Aug. 31 with Friends of the Strand, the nonprofit that governs the multi-use performing arts and events facility. The two parties were unable to reach a deal on extending that contract.
Blocker singled out Mayor Steve Tumlin’s unsuccessful offer to divert some of the city’s auto rental tax collections and Downtown Marietta Development Authority’s revenues to help keep the Lyric at the Strand. The Lyric had accepted Tumlin’s offer, but the Friends of the Strand rejected it.
“We continue to appreciate Mayor Tumlin’s leadership in trying to forge a deal with us and the Strand,” Blocker said. “That made us even more committed to remaining in Cobb County, his support of not just the Lyric, but all the arts in Marietta, and we’re very excited. We have a tremendous selection of shows for next season.”
Support from patrons, who have told him they will follow the Lyric wherever it goes, has been tremendous, he said.
“And it should be one of the most spectacular seasons that the Lyric has ever presented, considering the titles and considering what we’ll be able to produce at the new location,” he said. “At the Strand stage, the stage itself, while lovely, was smaller and a little bit more confined. This gives us the space to be able to produce in a very grand fashion.”
Blocker said the Lyric will move out of the Strand following the last performance of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on June 23. Its 2013-14 season at the new venue will open with “The Producers” in August.
An upset restaurant owner
Reardon said the Lyric draws audiences who are not regular Marietta residents that he knows and recognizes.
“All these wonderful people get a chance to see our Square while they’re at the theater and they say, ‘gee, wasn’t this a pleasant surprise? They’ve got 26 restaurants, they’ve got all these great little shops, they have concerts on the Square, all these things. We’re coming back,’” Reardon said.
Reardon serves on the Downtown Marietta Development Authority with Tumlin. Reardon said he told the mayor it was the DMDA’s job to ensure a group as good as the Lyric remains on the Square.
“If we can help them some as we help all the theater groups that are on the Square, and the museums, I mean we tax ourselves, it’s our money,” Reardon said. “You have to be on the Square to be taxed, it’s not the regular citizens that are being taxed but the downtown people.”
Reardon is skeptical about why the Strand rejected the offer.
“I’m totally disappointed, and I sure wish that someone would come forward and just say what’s the reasoning behind this,” Reardon said. “I really don’t want to see the Strand dark again. I looked at it for 20 years – I’ve been here for 35 – and I’ve looked at it for 20 years dark where we tried everything in the world to make it work from $1 dollar movies to you name it, flea markets.”
Marietta Councilman Philip Goldstein, whose family owns the Strand building, said it opened in 1935 as a movie theater, closing in December 1976, likely due to competition from newer multi-screen cinemas. His father, Herbert Goldstein, purchased the building the next month, and over the years leased it to various tenants including a flea market, music venue, a church and a place to show old movies. The Friends of the Strand then leased the building, spending about $6 million to renovate it, before debuting the Lyric’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast” in 2008.
“Now these guys go out and spend all this money on (renovating the Strand) and a lot of it is donations from citizens,” Reardon said. “They put their trust in them by donating all these dollars and on top of it you go out and get this wonderful theater group that was in downtown Atlanta. What a coup for us. And now we want to give it away, even when we met what they wanted? We said we’ll help you with it. We have some dollars, it’s our tax dollars, we’ll help subsidize it because we want them to stay. So I thought it would be a no brainer. I said why would you run someone off? We’ve met your demands. It’s absurd.”
Reardon’s hope is that the Lyric’s new venue will be close by, wherever it is.
“Everyone I talk to everywhere I go says the same thing: ‘we love that theater group, they’re terrific. Why are you letting them get away?’ I said, ‘they don’t want to leave. You’re getting this story backwards. They do not want to leave the Strand or downtown Marietta. They’re being forced to leave.’”