The Crowd: Magic for South Coast Repertory gala

The 2010-11 social season on the Orange Coast was inaugurated with great style Sept. 11 at the South Coast Repertory Gala Ball. Chaired by Sophie Cripe, resplendent in a golden satin strapless ball gown, the evening was billed as "The Plays The Thing."

By the end of the evening at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, more than $530,000 net was raised for the Costa Mesa-based theatrical company. The 32nd annual gala ball, responsible for a major contribution each and every year to the repertory's annual fund, attracted an upbeat contingent of Newport-Mesa guests who have supported the theater since its beginning 46 seasons ago.

Founding artistic directors David Emmes and Martin Benson graciously thanked the audience for its support, letting attendees know that they are significantly more than donors; they are in fact members of a very close-knit Orange County extended family. Cripe echoed the sentiments and extended heartfelt thanks to her husband, Larry Cripe, and her sons and their spouses in the audience for lending their unconditional support.

"SCR is not only the greatest theater company in Orange County, but indeed possibly in all of America," the jubilant blonde party chairwoman said.

The crowd arrived at sunset on a spectacular late summer evening. As the valets whisked away the cars, the black tie-clad guests gathered in the reception area adjacent to the ballroom spilling out on to the oceanfront terrace just above the busy Pacific Coast Highway, which was out of sight and out of mind.

A talented jazz ensemble featuring a soloist on the trumpet spun a little sunset musical magic as the crowd enjoyed an evening cocktail and hors d' oeuvres while gazing out over Huntington Beach and watching the Pacific waves lap upon the shore. The dinner bell chimed at 7 p.m., and the more than 400 guests were escorted into the cavernous hotel ballroom transformed by the SCR production staff into a whimsical backstage setting. It was complete with an enormous raised stage and bandstand built to accommodate Orange County philanthropist John Tu's orchestra, known as California Dreamin'.

A troupe of SCR performers dressed in spectacular period costumes paraded both the cocktail party and the dining room, delivering brief speeches from multiple periods of dramatic writing ranging from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to the work of contemporary writer Amy Freed's "The Beard of Avon."

Round tables were festooned with floral centerpieces created by Floral Creations by Enzo in rich dark fall tones of burgundy, gold, rust and a buttery yellow. Table themes followed with linens in alternating colors of burnt orange and burgundy dupioni silk. Donors were treated with table gifts generously provided by Cartier.

SCR board President Tom Phelps welcomed all the guests and introduced former board chairs in the audience dating back for some three decades. Spotted in the crowd were Bette and Wylie Aitken, Nadine and Robert Hall, Dee and Larry Higby, Betty and S.L. Huang, Michelle Rohé, Mary Roosevelt, Olivia and Andrew Johnson, Ardelle St. George, Roger Kirwin, and Diana Martin. Also supporting SCR were Elizabeth An, the glamorous Danuta Schenke, Nola Schneer and Elaine Weinberg.

Following an incredible four-course dinner that featured an entrée of filet and lobster, with fine wines donated by Young's Market Co., the crowd members was up on their feet dancing until the stroke of midnight. A charming highlight of the evening was a surprise performance by Sophie and Larry Cripe joining SCR Board of Trustees Vice President Tod White and his wife, Linda, performing an adapted number from Stephen Sondheim's "Comedy Tonight." The four performers renamed the number "SCR Tonight," changing the lyrics to pay tribute to many of the gala underwriters and donors. They were backed by Tu's 41-piece orchestra bringing down the house.

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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