Brandt Blocker, general manager and artistic director the Atlanta Lyric Theatre, stands outside The Strand Theatre on the Marietta Square on Friday after he announced the Lyric will be the musical theater company in residence at the Strand.
By Ashley Hungerford
Marietta Daily Journal
MARIETTA – As Cobb is fast becoming a hub for performing arts, The Strand Theatre, with restoration efforts to be completed this winter, is lifting the curtain on the newest stage show venture for the Marietta Square.
On Friday, the 28-year-old Atlanta Lyric Theatre company announced a long-term alliance with The Strand Theatre as the sole musical theater company in residence.
In the alliance, the Lyric will present six to eight productions each year at The Strand over the next five years. The first season brings more than 100 days of musical performances to the Strand’s stage.
“We are becoming even more of a cultural destination,” Executive Director of Friends of the Strand Earl Reece said.
“We now have a season of musical theater, from a company that has reputation of quality and excellence,” he said. “Theater lovers don’t have to drive all the way to Atlanta for great musical theater.”
Friday’s announcement was supported by members from most of Cobb’s performing arts ventures including representatives from the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and Marietta’s Theatre in the Square.
“With The Lyric and Theatre in the Square, there’s nothing now in theater that the Marietta Square won’t offer,” Reece said.
Earl Smith, chairman of the Friends of the Strand, said Friday’s announcement is “electrifying.”
“What has happened is the arts community has recognized that we have a built up desire for arts in northwest Atlanta,” Smith said. “This is absolutely a home run, and we’re going to make it work.”
Already evident with the success of the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre near the Galleria, Smith said the economic benefits of this type of alliance are great for the area.
The Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s 2008-2009 season begins in December with the sixth longest Broadway production of all time – Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast.” The production runs Dec. 5 through Dec. 21.
Next comes a flashback to the 50s and 60s with “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” featuring songs like “Jail House Rock,” “Stand by Me,” “Yakety Yak” and “Hound Dog.” The show runs from Jan. 16 to Feb. 1.
Back to the era of flappers, “The It Girl” is a tribute to silent movies and actress Clara Bow. The musical is March 6 through March 22.
The season appeals to children as the Atlanta Junior Lyric performs “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” on March 14 and March 21. The two-act musical is based on Charles M. Schulz’ comic strip “Peanuts.”
Just as entertaining as when it first opened in 1879, “The Pirates of Penzance” brings sentimental pirates, bumbling policemen, young lovers and an eccentric Major General to The Strand April 24 to May 10.
The season ends with a little “Razzle Dazzle” as the Atlanta Lyric Theatre performs the Tony Award winning musical “Chicago” on June 12 through June 28.
Kathleen McCook, managing director of the Murray Arts Center and a member of the Atlanta Lyric, said this has been a “banner year” for the arts in Cobb.
“It’s a great day to be in Cobb County with the arts,” she said. “I’m happy to be involved with the Lyric right here in my backyard. The Cobb County audience is perfect for this.”
The alliance between The Strand and the Lyric began forming in early June, when Reece took members of the Atlanta Lyric Theatre on a tour of The Strand.
After many conversations and e-mails, he said they let him know the Atlanta Lyric Theatre was looking for a new home and The Strand fit.
Brandt Blocker, artistic director and general manager of the Lyric, said the Lyric was looking for a way to maximize its potential as a company. He said they wanted to find a high profile location, and that meant possibly going outside the perimeter.
“You can’t get more visible than on the corner of the Marietta Square,” Blocker said. “We invite the entire Atlanta community to come past the perimeter and check out what’s going on in Cobb County.”
Blocker joined the Atlanta Lyric in May 2007 after serving as director of marketing and development for the Le Petit Theatre de Vieux Carre in New Orleans.
A native of New Orleans, Blocker brought with him the Atlanta Lyric jazz band to entertain the crowd on Friday prior to the announcement.
Steve Hauser, chairman of the Atlanta Lyric Theatre board, said the Strand is the perfect size venue for their shows.
With 542 seats at The Strand, everyone will have a good seat, he said.
“It’s intimate, but there are enough seats to make it economically viable,” Hauser said. “It allows us to stage professional, first rate shows with all the sets, talent, actors, costumes and sound.”
The Atlanta Lyric previously performed at Georgia Tech’s Robert Ferst Center and the Byers Studio Theatre on Commerce Drive in Atlanta.
Hauser too, said the alliance will attract Atlanta theater lovers to Cobb.
“This will expand a whole new audience out here,” he said. “There’s just something very special about the Square environment. It has that small-town feel, but it’s also very sophisticated.”
Following Friday’s announcement, construction crews at The Strand will work non-stop to prepare for a winter opening.
The Strand Theatre is currently undergoing a $4.5 million restoration project.
Since their formation in 2003, The Friends of the Strand have raised more than $3.3 million of the $4.5 million goal to restore the 1930s art-deco theater.
That number includes an effort by a group trying to raise $1 million to rename the theater, “The Earl Smith Strand Theatre.”
The Earl Smith Tribute Challenge was launched in November to honor Smith. A group of donors pledged the original $500,000 and challenged the community to raise the other half by the end of summer.
Christy Rosell, director of business development and marketing for Friends of the Strand, said the renaming campaign is about $50,000 to $60,000 away from their goal.
And with the addition of the Atlanta Lyric Theatre, Reece said they are now adding to the theater a small orchestra pit and fly system, which is a system of ropes and pulleys that allow scenery to be moved. The Atlanta Lyric Theatre is paying for the new additions, estimated to cost between $175,000 to $200,000.
“They came to us at the perfect time so we could make the necessary adjustments,” Reece said.
Reece said before the Strand opens, they hope to have over 200 days booked. They’re already close to that goal with several corporate events and galas already planned. The theater even has its first wedding booked.
“The community support has been great and the Square is truly embracing the theater,” Reece said.