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Center Party-Goers Celebrate on a Grand Scale

Times Staff Writer

Amid fireworks and finery, Orange County’s power elite gathered Monday night to dance and dine in a post-performance celebration of the opening of the Performing Arts Center.

“It’s magnificent, just magnificent,” said Carol Miltner, who, with her husband, John Miltner, vice chancellor of UC Irvine, was one of the first to cross from the Center to the party. “God just smiled,” her husband said.

In a county renowned for extravagant parties, the glittering outdoor affair was a gala on the grand scale. A year in the planning, the extravaganza, held inside cavernous tents, cost $300,000 to feed and entertain 3,000 partygoers.

Sumptuous Menu

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It was a major party: 300 pounds of scampi; 270 pounds of veal; 3,800 miniature servings of chicken Kiev; 20 pounds of caviar (beluga, golden and salmon); 400 pounds of fresh ravioli; 3,500 oysters flown in from Maryland; 3,000 lamb shish kebabs; 60 pounds of imported fresh Italian porcini mushrooms (at $78 a pound); 100 pounds of fresh lobster; 120 loaves of assorted pates, and 200 pounds of smoked duck breast. For dessert: 1,500 pastries; 200 New York-style cheesecakes and 60 gallons each of six flavors of gelato .

Thirsty revelers could be seen tipping back one of 9,000 glasses of Louis Roederer champagne--or helping to quaff one of the 900 bottles of Jordan Vineyards’ red and white wine.

For party hostess Floss Schumacher, who coordinates special events for the Center, Monday night brought relief on a grand scale.

“It was really touchy, but oh, now it’s perfect,” said Schumacher of Corona Del Mar during intermission.

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Last Wednesday’s heavy rains had left party planners scurrying. Nearly an acre of black outdoor carpeting was laid to cover the ground at the party site. But when the earth beneath turned to mud, Center officials had to order the carpeting pulled up and plywood sheets placed below.

Clear Weather

Fearful of a repeat performance of rain, party organizer Carol Campbell had frantically phoned KNBC weatherman Fritz Coleman requesting predictions on the possibility of opening night precipitation.

All would be clear, Coleman assured Campbell. Fortunately for Schumacher, he was right.

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By Monday night, gala guests--decked out in diamonds and designer gowns--might never have known the troubles party organizers had seen.

“I feel like I just got out of the delivery room,” said Dick Kitzrow, director of public relations for the Center.

As a display of fireworks splashed across the sky, the 3,000 guests walked across a red carpet lined by 50 tuxedo-clad girls to a cluster of black and white tents, which had been magically transformed, for the evening, into the four corners of the world.

The corner of Avenue of the Arts and Town Center Drive may be half a world away from the glitter of New York, the charm of a southern Italy, the regal onion domes of a Moscow cathedral or the icy facades of Bavarian castles. But “in this day and age not many things are impossible,” Schumacher said.

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So Schumacher brought them all to Costa Mesa, making certain that opening-nighters were treated to a soiree so sumptuous that, in her words, “it boggles the mind.”

Indeed, inside the tents, live swans glided by in a 15- by 30-foot reflecting pond, with their trainers on hand to ensure control. Behind the pond, Murray Korda’s orchestra of more than 50 pieces played for those who graced the giant dance floor.

Each of the adjacent 10,000-square-foot tented pavilions were elaborately themed--in both decor and delicacies--to match a tradition of the performing arts: Italy and the opera; Russia and the ballet; Austria and the symphony, and New York, home of the Broadway musical.

Elegant Inedibles

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Each tent had its own color theme, enhanced by hundreds of hand-painted silk banners and ceiling projections that resembled swirling white snowflakes.

Treats for tasting were nearly upstaged by the elegant inedibles: an 18-foot-long ice sculpture of the New York skyline (carved from 14 300-pound blocks of ice); a Bavarian castle doused in 200 pounds of white chocolate, set atop a mountain of white satin, and dozens of smaller, intricately carved chocolate and butter sculptures.

There were flowers, thousands of them flown in from Europe and Hawaii to be arranged by Chris Lindsay Designs of Newport Beach. There were more than 300 ficus trees bedecked with twinkling lights, and Anthurium, protea and hanging halyconia, plus 600 stems of orchids for the many lavish centerpieces.

Cooking for the party began in hotels across the county days ahead of time. But in makeshift kitchens catering crews from the Irvine Hilton and Westin South Coast Plaza hotels began heating the hot foods on site at 8 p.m.

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Each of the 13,600 forks, 12,000 cups, glasses and mugs, and a gargantuan mountain of plates smudged with salmon or smeared with chocolate had to be carted back to hotel kitchens because there wasn’t a drop of running water on site.

Bash on Grand Scale

A bash on such a scale doesn’t just happen, nor can an alternately dusty and muddy field turn into a Bacchanalian city overnight. Schumacher said she and her crew began planning for the soiree about a year ago.

Originally, it was thought that the opening night post-performance event, paid for by private donations from many of the same donors who contributed to build the Center, would be held within the halls of the $70-million-plus theater complex. But it soon became evident that there was nowhere inside large enough for 3,000 party-goers.

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Rooftops and parking garages were considered next. But someone asked, ‘What if it rains?’ So party organizers set their sights on a street party, a plan the city immediately rejected.

Finally, last May, the tent-city concept was decided upon, and models of the plan were presented to the Center committee in charge of the opening night gala.


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