The Show (and Clothes) Must Go On

Marilynn Wick has big plans for The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum.
Marilynn Wick has big plans for The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum.

I t has been a hectic day. Marilynn Wick says she’s lost a 40-year employee. Her new Mercedes-Benz won’t start, so she has to change the scheduled meeting from the theater in uppermost Boca Raton to her big costume warehouse in Deerfield Beach. People are popping in and out of her office with problems. Her office is like a stage, with citizens showing up unannounced from several entrances. Somebody has lost the wigs. A voice from somewhere says, “I may have heard her wrong. I’m trying to get an order that has to go out today.”

A polite young man comes in to say they want $100 just to look at the car.

“I thought I should tell you before I told them ‘OK,’” he says.

“That’s good,” she says.

“It’s not the battery,” he says.

“It’s the starter,” she says.

“They said it might just be a wire,” he says.

“Take it to the Mercedes dealer.”

“It started for me five times,” he says.

“You better have them check it out.”

This all happens in about five minutes, as Wick is trying to do an interview and primp for a photo. If you want to match this for organized chaos in a successful setting, you only have to drive up the road to see Don King. They have something in common. Don King is theater. Wick is also, except she provides costumes for theater and everything else. Indeed, Costume World (founded by Wick) could make you look like Don King, if they can find the right wig.

The woman who runs the company that has grown into the largest theatrical costume supplier in the country did not grow up on Broadway. She might be more likely to be dressed like an equestrian. Wick grew up on a farm near Warren, Pa., northwest of Pittsburgh, not far from the New York border. The setting was decidedly horsey.

“My father had been a jockey as a kid. My mother was a polo pony rider,” she says. “My father later trained horses. He had a horse in the Derby. It came in last. He was training thoroughbreds when he died at Hialeah Park in 1968.” She came to Florida in 1972, divorced with two young daughters to support. She got into high-rise window cleaning during the condo boom of that decade.

Having developed a taste for business, she launched another, almost by accident.

“My girls wanted to make some Santa Claus suits,” she says, “and I thought that would be fun. So we started making five Santa suits. That was the beginning. I love challenges and this was the opportunity to make it into a successful enterprise.”

After 38 years, one of those daughters, Kim, is still with the company, Costume World, which has a 25,000-square-foot facility in Deerfield Beach and another big operation in Texas. Wick had an interest in community theater, and early on the company took a fancy to theatrical costumes. It grew by purchasing five other costume companies – in the process amassing an impressive collection of costumes from major entertainment events. It has costumes from 35 Broadway shows, including Julie Andrews’ outfits from “My Fair Lady.”

Such a collection is worthy of a museum, and that was established in 2010. What better place to showcase such a collection than a real theater, so last year Wick took over – with an option to purchase – the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton, just a curtain call from the Delray Beach border. As we read, she is operating the theater and the museum as a single entity. The Caldwell has a nearly 39-year history in Palm Beach County. Wick says it is the oldest theater in the state. The last owner closed in 2012, owing almost $6 million in mortgages, plus other debts. Nobody ever says theater is an easy business, but the new theater, known oddly enough as The Wick Theatre, has an additional draw with its costume museum. If you want to see the outfit Yul Brynner wore in “The King and I,” this is the place to be. That costume, by the way, does not need a wig.

Midway in our conversation, she takes a phone call and her hushed tone prompts us to ask, “by losing you mean an employee died?” She acknowledges the same with a sad face, but quickly returns to form. “Yes, I lose them the other way too. People do quit here,” she says. “I get too crazy and they can’t take it.”

Wick is normally quite audible. You can hear people laughing at her wisecracks outside the office, but she also has a way of lowering her voice to suggest some historic revelation, as when she says, “people look at this place and think I have a lot of money. I don’t have a lot of money. This (the theater and museum) is a non-profit. We are going to need donations. All I am is a woman who works hard and loves what she does.”

She clearly loves her museum. She explains:

“This museum will let us preserve clothes for history and if we didn’t have a place to put them, that aspect of the American musical theater would be lost.”

And oh, for those who want to rent costumes, a Don King wig is no problem.

It’s Showtime

The Wick Theatre has already had a good debut season. If you want to catch a show during the remainder of the season, here is the schedule:

“The Full Monty” – Feb. 20 to March 23

“Steel Magnolias” – April 3 to April 20

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” – May 8 to June 1

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