As the Marion Palace Theatre’s $1.8 million ‘Re-Light the Palace Marquee’ project nears completion, the theatre’s staff and board of directors are busy preparing for a day of celebration.

The theatre began the restoration to the decaying historic façade in October 2013. In addition to the replacement of brick, terra cotta and steel, the upright P-A-L-A-C-E blade sign and canopy marquee have been updated with 900 environmentally friendly lighting components.

The Palace Cultural Arts Association (PCAA) board of directors along with Executive Director Bev Ford will hold a Re-Light ceremony on Sunday, April 3 prior to the show, ”To Clare With Love.”

The by invitation festivities will kick off at 1:00 p.m. in the theatre lobby with a ceremony involving local and state officials, PCAA board members, and local business owners along with donors who played a significant part in helping the theatre reach its fundraising goal. The community is invited to join the revelry and witness the re-lighting of the iconic 50’ P-A-L-A-C-E blade sign at 1:45 p.m. Harding High School Marching band will be present at the event to provide music and a drum-roll prior to the official re-lighting.

Available for purchase at the affair will be commemorative ornaments. Light-bulbs, which once lit the blade and marquee, have been hand-decorated by Palace volunteers. Commemorative bulbs will sell for $10 each and all proceeds will be placed in the Palace Theatre’s Capital Improvement fund.

Following the marquee re-lighting ceremony, the PCAA along with show sponsor OhioHealth will present “To Clare With Love,” a very special show honoring respected and beloved director Clare Cooke. Under the direction of her daughter Kristi Wink, this tribute will feature the ‘Best of the Best’ performances and numbers from Palace Productions that were directed by Clare. Doors open for “To Clare With Love” at 2:00 p.m. and the show begins at 3:00 p.m.

The idea to honor Clare in an artistic and theatrical fashion is the brainchild of Clare’s daughter Kristi Wink who will direct the show. Wink pitched her idea to Palace Executive Director Bev Ford more than a year ago. Instantly, Ford was on board with the plan.

Ford shares,

“For all she has given and all we as a community have received, it is a delight to celebrate Clare with this special show. I am honored to call her my friend, and it is with great joy I invite the community to join in this celebration of her 70th birthday and her nearly 40 years of shows at the Palace.”

Clare began her theatre career in 1977 choreographing Palace shows under the direction of Marilyn Babich and Ula Watts. Over the next decade she choreographed musicals and show choir numbers for Harding High School and River Valley along with musicals for the Marion Palace Theatre. In 1984 Clare wrote, directed and choreographed her first community production, “To Ula, With Love,” in honor of her friend and mentor, Ula Watts. The show was a sell-out performance. The next six years she dedicated to choreographing summer musicals for directors Watts and George Schram; all the while she worked and raised her children, Kristi and David.

In 1990, Clare once again stepped into her director shoes. Taking on a challenge, she expertly led a cast of local talent in the production of “A Chorus Line.” Since that time, she has continued to raise the bar on the theatre productions presented in our hometown. Complicated dance routines, flying actors over the audience, and special effects are all elements of Clare’s signature directing style. Most Palace patrons can attest that a show directed by Clare Cooke is more than just a show – it becomes an experience and is nothing short of magical.

Some of Clare’s most notable works include the Palace Produced musicals “Mary Poppins,” “Oliver!,” “Annie,” “Hairspray,” “42nd Street,” “Guys and Dolls,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Will Rogers Follies,” and “Legally Blonde,” just to name a few.

On April 3, Clare along with audience members will have the chance to enjoy some of their favorite numbers from the shows listed above. Returning to the Palace stage to pay homage and to celebrate their dear friend, mentor and trusted director will be over 100 performers including Sara Grote, John Garnes, II, Matt Meade, Doug Ford, Dustin Rawlins, Ron Boose, Charles Groth and Orchestra Conductor George Schram, as well as a few Palace stage veterans as surprise guests who audience members (and Clare) have not seen in some time.

Tickets for “To Clare With Love” can be ordered by phone (740) 383-2101 or charged online Adults $18-$22, children age 12 and younger $12. A $40 Patron ticket includes admission to the post-show birthday celebration in the May Pavilion. Sponsored by OhioHealth. The post-show birthday/patron party celebration is sponsored by ReConserve Ohio, Inc.

Staff report