The Crowd: Candlelight Concert benefits Segerstrom Center

Mark Perry, Steve Martin and Carol Perry attend the Candlelight Concert benefit for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Mark Perry, Steve Martin and Carol Perry attend the Candlelight Concert benefit for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
(Doug Gifford)

Orange County giving surely hit a high mark this holiday season as the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ 46th annual Candlelight Concert raised a stellar $2.75 million.

The Dec. 6 gala in Segerstrom Hall attracted 400 guests contributing a minimum of $3,000 each to reach that exemplary level of funding, which is earmarked for the center’s artistic, community engagement and educational outreach programs.

The sophisticated evening in Costa Mesa had a modern tone, subtly glamorous yet understated. A theme based on seasonal winter white was chosen and executed with panache by mother-daughter co-chairs Marta Bhathal and Lisa Bhathal Merage. Their husbands, Raj Bhathal and Richard Merage, joined them greeting the crowd of O.C. influencers and community leaders.

The night on the town began with caviar champagne and cocktails hosted by the Silver Trumpet Restaurant & Bar on the Plaza and Orchestra levels of the iconic Segerstrom Hall.


The reception was hosted in part by center donors Kelly and Jim Mazzo. Meeting many in the crowd for the first time was the Segerstrom Center’s new president, Casey Reitz, and his wife, Naomi. Reitz was tapped to lead the center into the next phase of creative growth, leaving his respected post as president and CEO of Second Stage Theater in New York. The Reitz family had arrived in O.C. only days before Candlelight.

The new leadership was greeted with hugs and well wishes by center stalwarts, including the uber-generous patrons Julia Argyros, attending with daughter Lisa, as well as Stephanie, Anton and Jennifer Segerstrom, Sally and Randy Crockett, and Dee and Larry Higby.

Arriving at the center, guests walked a snow-white carpet bordered by topiary trees sparkling in white lights. As the pre-event champagne reception faded, the crowd entered the main stage of the theater, which had been transformed into an impressive dinner club, again with the winter white theme. Dazzling tall cylinders of light hung from the high rafters, laser beams of horizontal illumination over tables festooned in white-on-white décor.

In the dinner crowd were VIP patrons Jaynine and David Warner, Jane Yada, Wendy and Mark Hales, Deborah and Larry Bridges, Valaree Wahler, Nancy and Rick Muth and Susan and Tim Strader. They dined on a multi-course meal created and served by Patina that began with — what else? —a “winter white farmers market salad” followed by an entrée of roasted rib eye mignon paired with Chilean sea bass.


Also spotted were Kathy and Cliff Fleming, Sara King with Kamran Pahlavi, Kim and Kevin DeAllen, Matt Stewart, new center board member Jason Howard and wife, Courtney, and board member Dan Callahan and wife, Maureen.

Dessert was the coup de grâce, according to insiders. A chocolate fromage blanc cake paired with a holiday persimmon bread pudding received raves.

Conversation included comments praising the work of the William J. Gillespie School and the School of Dance and Music for Children with Disabilities, two of the organizations receiving support from the largess of event donations. Over the past decade the Gillespie School has garnered national regard for its dance programs.

Prior to the introduction of the star-quality entertainment on board to deliver major punch to Candlelight 46, the co-chairs shared personal thoughts on their connection to the center.

“It’s certainly been fun dreaming up a glistening winter Candlelight with you,” Lisa Merage Bhathal said of her mother. “And thank you to you and my dad, Raj, for bringing me to countless performances here and introducing me to the magic of Candlelight. The center has truly been a part of my childhood growing up in Orange County. And now the center is part of my own kids’ experience.”

Comedic super star Steve Martin, who grew up in Garden Grove, returned to his roots to pay homage to the Center and tickle the fancy of his audience. Martin, joined by the band Steep Canyon Rangers, put on a show to thunderous applause. He may have been the star attraction, but he was also a warm-up for The Revolution, the late Prince‘s former band, driving up the energy on the dance floor until the Cinderella hour.

The gala was sponsored and underwritten by presenting sponsor Lugano Diamonds and its proprietors, Moti and Idit Ferder.

Additional platinum underwriters were Elizabeth Segerstrom, Sally Segerstrom and Toby Andrews, Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, Jane and Jim Driscoll, Shanaz and Jack Langson, Elizabeth and Paul Merage, Terry and George Schreyer and the Bhathals.


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