By Carla Caldwell

Marcie Millard, Craig Waldrip, Wendy Melkonian, left to right, appear in “A Christmas Survival Guide.”

A 401k and a septic tank aren’t typical gift requests, but that’s exactly what a lonely, young career woman asks Santa to bring during a scene in “A Christmas Survival Guide,” a holiday-themed musical being performed by Dunwoody’s Stage Door Players.

When the department store Santa tells the young woman to ask for what she wants rather than what she needs, romance follows.

The young man under the beard is lonely, too, it turns out. He is filling in for St. Nick as a way to get through the holidays. After the pair strike up a conversation, she gets a date to her office’s annual Christmas party for the first time and “Santa” is lonely no more.

The vignette is among several heart-warming numbers in the three-person musical to be performed Dec. 3-19 that highlights sentimental moments and gifts of the season. There is also traditional Christmas music and comedy numbers. Everything is geared to a family audience.

Stage Door Players is itself the recipient of a lot of generosity. While the economy has forced some community theater organizations to fold or scale back, the 37-year-old community theater company is stronger than ever due to dedicated season ticket holders and community support, said director Robert Egizio, who takes a hands-on approach with audiences. He is there at each performance to make a curtain speech, and he gets to know patrons by name.

“We’re the little theater that could, thanks to a lot of help from our friends,” Egizio said recently as he prepared to open the company’s holiday show.

Season tickets sales have grown from 239 when Egizio arrived in 2004 to more than 700 at the end of last season, he said, and he hopes to push the number even higher. Ticket sales account for 60 percent of the theater company’s operating budget, Egizio said.

A Christmas Survival Guide, performed by the Stage Door Players, runs from Dec. 3-19. Shows are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the North DeKalb Cultural Center, 5339 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody, Ga. 30338. Tickets are $26, adult; $24, senior; $22, student; and $12, children younger than 12. For tickets and information:, or call 770-396-1726.

The company also benefits from in-kind donations. For example, Thelen Design Build provides building supplies for sets and other projects, while Southern Comforts Consignment provides the use of furniture and other props.

“I can’t begin to tell you what a difference these partnerships make,” said Egizio. “We have had the materials we needed to build sets, and we’ve had shows where the furniture on stage was worth $4,000 to $5,000 because of the partnership with the consignment store. We could not do what we do without them.”

Dunwoody Mayor Ken Wright also bestowed a gift when he was elected the city’s first mayor in 2008. Wright, who regularly attends Stage Door productions with his wife, donated his first year’s salary – $16,000 ($12,000 after taxes) – to the theater company.

“I strongly feel supporting a community’s local arts is one of the critical pieces of a successful community,” Wright said recently when asked about the donation. “In starting up a new city, I thought it would be a positive gesture to help set the tone and nature that the foundation of Dunwoody is, and will continue to be: volunteers, arts, giving back, getting involved. Lead by example.”

Stage Door was started in 1974 by the Dunwoody Woman’s Club and is now the only year-round professional company in Dunwoody. The company produces three plays and three musicals each year.

In addition to full-time director Egizio, the company has three part-time employees. Professional actors are hired on a show-by-show basis.

In January, the company will stage “Bye, Bye Birdie” featuring 14 students from schools, including Marist, Woodward Academy, Dunwoody High School and North Springs Charter School.

Egizio hopes to welcome back many long-time patrons and meet more of the theater’s neighbors.

“There are still people in the community who don’t know we are here,” the director said. “ After they find us, they are usually thrilled. People who come out can expect a good show, consistent quality, and that I will be here to welcome them.”