When Jan Collins, Steven Hauser and Jerry and Peggy Stapleton decided to co-found the City Springs Theatre Company in Sandy Springs in 2017, it was to fill a void in the city.
In the years leading up to the city’s decision to build the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, also known as the Byers Theatre, as part of its planned City Springs complex, the city polled its residents to ask what their interests were and what they felt was missing in Sandy Springs.
“(The city) asked, ‘If we built a performing arts center, what are you most interested in seeing (there)?’ The number one response was musical theater,” said Natalie DeLancey, the company’s managing director. “We’ve been very pleased with the response from the community. We look forward to it continuing to grow.”
“Very pleased” may be an understatement based on the statistics provided by DeLancey regarding the company, whose mission is to bring high-quality theater productions to Sandy Springs. Its inaugural season, which kicked off with “42nd Street” in September 2018, had 40,502 patrons attend its five main-stage productions.
“At the end of the season, we did a survey with general questions about patrons’ experience, and we received a 97% approval rating on our productions and our inaugural season,” DeLancey said. “It’s been an incredible year. We are continuing to see growth.
“In Season 1 we had 4,322 season subscribers. In season 2 we have 4,600-plus subscribers. We’re still selling. We’ve grown from Season 1 to Season 2, which is outstanding. We added two more performances per production this year, eight in Season 1 and 10 in Season 2.”
Season 2 will continue with Irving Berlin’s “Holiday Inn” Dec. 13 through 22, the company’s Christmas production. Its 2018 holiday musical, “Elf,” was its most-sold production in the first season.
“I believe we sold our seats at 93% capacity throughout the season last year,” DeLancey said. “We’re trending very well. We just added another performance of ‘Holiday Inn.’”
The infusion of Broadway actors and talented local thespians has made the company arguably as strong as two Midtown organizations: the Alliance Theatre, which hosts original productions, and the Broadway in Atlanta series that performs touring shows at the Fox Theatre.
In addition to DeLancey, the company is led by Executive/Artistic Director Brandt Blocker and Associate Artistic Director Shuler Hensley. Blocker, an award-winning theater leader who helmed the Atlanta Lyric Theatre from 2007-16, was hired after spending two years working in Hong Kong.
Hensley is a veteran actor who has performed in countless Broadway productions, TV shows and movies. He and another Broadway veteran, Baayork Lee, are Tony Award winners representing two of the 16 Broadway stars who performed in the company’s inaugural season. A stable of Broadway actors will perform in this season’s production, including six in “Holiday Inn.”
“Certainly Shuler’s presence in the company (attracts) those Broadway (actors),” Blocker said. “His involvement means there’s something of quality happening in Sandy Springs. Because of his help in performing in our shows and attracting those artists, the reputation of the company has spread throughout the New York community. When I engage with agents on certain talents, they’ll say it’s the company Shuler is associated with and produces such quality work.
“We are unique in Atlanta in that we are really bridging the Broadway community and our local professional actors. So all of our productions have featured talent from both.”
Said Jerry Stapleton, “What makes it stand out is the exceptionally performances we get that are over and above the norm. We have a superior director who gets the most out of his talent. … We get the best of all worlds. We have superior talent here and it’s fun to work here, and we get superior talent from New York who have performed these roles before on Broadway.”
DeLancey pointed out the company is a nonprofit and not affiliated with the city. “We rely on ticket and philanthropic gifts for our support,” she said.
The company’s capital campaign was a success, with a significant portion of funds raised coming from Ken and Trish Byers, the couple who donated $2.5 million for the performing arts center’s naming rights (most of those funds went to the city).
A portion of the money the company raised at its outset went toward building its new 12,000-square-foot studio space on Northridge Road in Sandy Springs. There the company hosts its rehearsals and offers voice lessons, master classes and training programs like Project Broadway with Sandy Springs native Courtenay Collins, another Broadway actor.
“We also do the junior musical through our conservatory,” DeLancey said. “Those programs are open to students ages 10 to 18. We are very interested and committed to training the next generation of performers, designers and technicians. We also do a lot of training in technical theater. (With) our junior musical, we have a technical track where students actually build the set, run sound, design the lights and stage manage the production. We’re committed to all aspects of musical theater.”
Blocker said he’s “extremely proud” of the community for embracing musical theater.
“I’ve had success over the years working here and in New Orleans and throughout the country. I’ve never been more proud of an organization to see its rapid growth, community support, to read about its success through critical acclaim and to see the numbers grow through subscribers.
“It’s something the citizens of Sandy Springs should take pride in. The theater companies have (had) a rough go of it, especially in bad economic times. We saw Theater of the Stars closed locally, plus Theater in the Square in Marietta closed.”
Ditto for Jerry Stapleton.
“For an old man … it’s been one of the most wonderful surprises I’ve been associated with,” he said. “It’s so inviting to be associated with brilliant and energetic people. It’s very inspiring. It gets you really enthused.”
For more information, visit www.cityspringstheatre.com.