The night belonged to Marianne Cooper.
More than 100 people gathered at Richland Academy of the Arts on Saturday evening to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the downtown institution.
The academy offers private lessons in instruments, voice, and piano, as well as dance, drama, and acting lessons. It serves school-age students through adults.
Cooper has been there from the start. She is the founder.
Cooper, who recently announced she would be retiring, tried her luck more than 30 years ago. She gave up a permanent position at Ohio State University-Mansfield to pursue her goal of making the arts accessible to everyone.
His influence was obvious. The live show, which Cooper put on, offered the story of the music and dance academy.
Students past and present returned to honor Cooper.
Singers and a group of dancers performed during dinner, courtesy of Ooh La La Catering and Events. Another live show followed the dinner.
The founder of the academy loves performances
Cooper seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. She sat at her table, speaking the words to virtually every song, beaming with pride in her students, new and old.
His son, Kent, surprised Cooper by flying over from Dubai to attend the celebration.
“Excitement and gratitude to these people coming back to share their talents,” Cooper said when asked how she was feeling before dinner. “I’ve always said there’s a lot of talent at Mansfield. A high percentage of them are here tonight.”
On a hot night, many revelers gathered outside before dinner as Alicia Porter played keyboards.
As guests munched on hors d’oeuvres, the dancers performed several selections from “Hadestown.”
Many artists were preparing on the second floor.
Kent Zimmerman traveled the furthest, coming from Iowa. He was one of the founding students of the academy.
“Marianne was my first voice teacher,” Zimmerman said. “Larry (Evans) was one of my first community theater directors. They both sparked my love for the arts.”
Aided by his academy training, Zimmerman carved out a successful 23-year career on stage.
“I moved to New York after graduating from the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati,” he said. “Two months later, I started my professional career. My second audition, I was cast on a show.”
Zimmerman went on to star in two Broadway shows, as well as a year-long stint in London’s West End for “Show Boat.”
Charter student recognizes Cooper
She credited Cooper for her influence.
“I think it’s invaluable,” Zimmerman said. “Thirty years ago, Marianne had the vision to create an academy.”
Dressed in a tuxedo, Larry Evans was the director of the festivities on Saturday. He was one of the academy’s first directors during the summers of 1992 and 1993.
Evans directed five musicals during this time.
“Almost as soon as Marianne started the academy, she started talking to me,” he said.
Both were professors at OSU-Mansfield. Evans was the drama teacher.
He sent his two daughters to the academy for piano and voice lessons.
“It had a huge impact,” Evans said of the academy. “Marianne Cooper has been the perfect person to lead this. She has so much energy and drive.”
Evans was on the second floor with the artists. He said he was “not nervous” ahead of the night’s performance.
“We had a wonderful race this afternoon,” said Evans. “It’s a great way to send Marianne Cooper into retirement, like she’s ever going to retire.”
Cooper said she would not retire until her replacement was hired. She wants to help with the transition.
Academy board member Joann Hipsher said Cooper’s successor should be chosen by July 1.
“We’re on track to make a decision,” Hipsher said. “Right now all the focus is on Miss Marianne and 30.”
As guests dined on medallions of beef tenderloin and chicken Florentine, a steady stream of performers entertained them with song and dance, accompanied by Deb Logan.
Before the main show, it was time to recognize Cooper. The Ohio Senate honored her with a commendation.
Mayor reads Cooper’s proclamation
Mayor Tim Theaker read a proclamation declaring June 11 Marianne Cooper Day.
“We thank you very much in the town of Mansfield. We thank you in Richland County and surrounding areas,” Theaker said.
Cooper received a standing ovation, but the honors kept coming.
The performing arts center at the academy was renamed in his honor and a scholarship for senior graduates enrolled at the academy was announced. Hipsher said $2,000 was already in the account.
For the live show, each singer or dancer performed a piece that had previously been performed at the academy.
Perhaps the highlight was “Tune the Grand Up,” a review of Jerry Herman’s music, including “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mama”.
It was staged at the academy in 1992 under the direction of Evans. Charter Academy members Adena King, Zimmerman and Mark Crumrine were back for the evening, along with 12 other performers.
An emotional Cooper led the crowd in a standing ovation.
It was his night.