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Column: A party in three acts for supporters of South Coast Repertory

Tom Rogers, Julia Voce, Larry Cripe and Rick Reiff attend the 2018 South Coast Repertory Gala, “Places, Please,” at The Westin South Coast Plaza.
(Photo by Debra Robinson)

It was a night perfectly suited to the theater-loving crowd. The 2018 South Coast Repertory Gala, billed as “Places, Please,” unfolded on a Saturday evening in September, transforming the grand ballroom of The Westin South Coast Plaza into an homage to such storied Broadway houses as the Majestic, the Gershwin, the Barrymore and the Helen Hayes.

In other words, the SCP evening was pure drama. Fabulous sets, costumed performers, theatrical vignettes and nonstop surprises brought the crowd into the magical and glamorous world of the theater.

The party was actually created in what might be appropriately termed “three acts.” Patrons arrived entering a majestic red-carpeted stairway to the stars leading into the east gallery of the hotel for Act I. A cocktail reception ensued, thanks to the generous sponsorship by Le Grand Courtage. Prominent guests Sally Anderson and Tom Rogers, Joan and Andy Fimiano, Laurie and Steve Duncan, Olivia and Alan Slutzky, Barbara and David Cline, Olivia and A. Andrew Johnson, and Debbie and Jeff Margolis, raised Champagne flutes in toasts to SCR and, of course, to their own continued good health and good fortune, enabling the notable Orange County theatrical mainstay to flourish for a half century, thanks in great part to the financial largess of its donors.

Among the most ardent supporters of SCR were many of the O.C.’s most philanthropic individuals. Bette and Wylie Aitken, Maralou and Jerry Harrington, Michelle Rohé, Sophie and Larry Cripe, Tracy and Roger Kirwan and lastly, and most significantly, the couple I call the first lady and gent of SCR: Julianne and George Argyros. Not to discount the many citizens who have contributed major gifts, including Paul Folino and others, the Argyros family’s enthusiasm for SCR over decades literally rallied the community to step up. The exuberance of Julianne, her love of theater, her commanding and disarming personality, has made all the difference. And husband George has been right there with her, a force of his own influencing the business leaders of the county to come on board.


Bill Schenker, Talya Nevo-Hacohen, Tammy and Sam Tang, attend the South Coast Repertory Gala, “Places, Please,” at the Westin South Coast Plaza.
(Photo by Debra Robinson)
Dimitri and Janna Karnezis and Jaime and Kris Rossfeld attend the 2018 South Coast Repertory Gala, “Places, Please,” at The Westin South Coast Plaza.
(Photos by Debra Robinson)

Act II of the night found the crowd dining in the Plaza Ballroom, romantically festooned in billowing sheer white drapery seated at tables exquisitely designed by O.C.’s amazing Wildflower Linens. As a special touch, designers re-created a backdrop featuring the appearance of the house seats in Segerstrom Hall, creating the illusion of being on stage and looking out at the audience. The Westin’s executive chef, Paul Gregory, worked his culinary magic, serving an elegant dinner featuring a peppercorn-crusted tenderloin along with rosemary skewered shrimp as an entrée.

As dessert — a flour-less chocolate cake accompanied by a berry-filled white chocolate ruffle cup — was served, ACT III delivered entertainment. A preview of SCR’s 2018-19 season featured segments from “Sense and Sensibility,” “Kings,” “M. Butterfly,” “Venya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” and “Sweeny Todd.” These preceded a grand finale from the Stephen Sondheim classic “Sunday In the Park with George” and its signature song, “Putting It Together.” Guests danced the evening away to the music of Dallas & Doll.


None of the gala night would have been possible without the dedicated chairmanship of Talya Nevo-Hacohen and Bill Schenker and their committee, including Ashleigh Aitken, Diedre Kelly, Susan Shieldkret-Dull, Kathryn Cenci (representing South Coast Plaza), Carla Furuno and Elaine Weinberg, to mention only a few.

As the evening ended, and the massive red velvet curtains lowered, an impressive tally of $250,000 net was raised for SCR. To learn more, go to

B.W. COOK is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.