Boots, Black Tie Dress Code for Performing Arts Center Benefit

When’s a gala a dress code?

When it’s the “Black and White Ball” (the campy romp the late Truman Capote staged in Manhattan years ago) or when it’s “Boots & Black Tie"--the splash scheduled for Sept. 26 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

The Western-themed benefit that’s part of the Center’s fifth anniversary celebration has the social set scrambling for the last word in hoedown finery.

The problem? Well, have you seen any sequin-smothered Levi’s in Orange County lately? (The dress code is a snap for men. But for women--a sartorial killer. When Nancy Sinatra sang about boots, she wasn’t thinking of ball gowns.)


Guests who will sit at $5,000 tables and be serenaded by country artists Roger Miller (“King of the Road”) and Hal Ketchum (“Small Town Saturday Night”) are looking to Texas, Colorado--even Italy for their dress-up duds.

Richard Engel--co-chairman of the bash that marks the first time Opera Pacific, the Pacific Symphony and the Orange County Philharmonic Society have collaborated on a gala--will be an Italian cowboy, he says.

He’ll wear black leather boots by Luchese. A black silk tux by Brioni. “I drive Italian cars (Ferrari’s) so I had to be an Italian cowboy,” Engel says with a laugh. “But my hat is from Aspen--a friend got it for me at Fast Eddie’s. Eddie makes bodacious hats.” (Engel’s black felt number sports a sun-dried rattlesnake.)

Engel’s wife, Jolene--a gala-fashion pacesetter--will wear “tastefully elegant Western attire,” he promises. But don’t beg for details. “Jolene has told me to keep my mouth shut, " he says. (For women, surprise is the name of the dress-code game.)


Ed Halvajian, co-chair of the affair with Engel and Marcy Mulville, recently bought his first pair of boots for the bash. “I feel kind of funny,” he says. “I mean, have you ever heard of an Armenian-from-New York cowboy?” Halvajian says his wife, Joann, has her Western ensemble on order from Neiman Marcus in Texas.

The three co-chairs will preside over a “Black Tie & Boots” preview party at the Center Club on Aug. 8 when donors from Orange County’s five major arts organizations--Opera Pacific, the Philharmonic Society, the Pacific Symphony, Pacific Chorale and Master Chorale--gather to hear about the gala. Tables are still available and they’re expected to be snapped up that day, Engel says. “First come, first serve.”

All’s Well That End’s Well: Actress Sally Kirkland (“Anna”) seemed to speak for the audience on Tuesday when she spoke after her appearance at the Festival Amphitheatre: “Thank you for the opportunity to go back to my soul.”

It was a soul-filling night all right. Along with actors David Birney, Roscoe Lee Browne, Salome Jens and Joan Van Ark, Kirkland performed scenes from a selection of Shakespeare’s plays--"Measure for Measure,” “Hamlet,” “Julius Caesar,” “The Tempest” and others--at “A Midsummer Night’s Eve at the Grove,” an annual gala that begins and ends al fresco--dinner first, theater second.


“I haven’t played Shakespeare for 15 years,” said Kirkland, honorary chairwoman of the benefit. “But when I started, I was 12 and playing Macbeth--not Lady Macbeth, Macbeth .”

During dinner, guests got a chance theater-arts buffs rarely get--the opportunity to mingle with the actors before their performances.

Birney (who recently wrapped the movie “Keeping Secrets” with Suzanne Sommers) admitted he was unnerved at the possibility of losing his concentration at the party. “I’m not having fun,” he said, smiling. “I’m thinking: ‘I want to get back over to the theater and collect my thoughts.’ ” (Birney performed the haunting “To be, or not to be. . . .” soliloquy from “Hamlet”). “I love doing Shakespeare because I love the language,” he said. “It’s sensational to be here with these actors. It’s a chance I’ll probably never have again.”

For Browne, the party was the thing: “It’s a lovely evening,” he said. “And it’s all right for us to come here first. We’re not fully doing the characters. Shakespeare would be very happy.”


Among party guests was Tom Moon, new board president of the Grove Shakespeare Festival. “I’m working hard to build a strong board and get the financing we need,” Moon said. “Like all arts groups, we’re chasing the corporate dollar--frankly, we’re looking for a major donor, a major partner.” We hear certain local Japanese corporations are interested.


Mark Chalon Smith looks at “A Midsummer Night’s Eve at the Grove II”