The Crowd: Concert raises more than $1M for OCPAC

This was a party worthy of coverage in Town & Country magazine. The 37th annual Candlelight Concert, which celebrated the performing arts in Orange County, raised more than $1 million for the O.C. Performing Arts Center's artistic and educational programs. Chaired by two of the communities most philanthropic and classy women, Liz Merage and Eve Kornyei, the evening attracted a contingent of the region's best and brightest for what arguably is the grandest of charitable events on the Orange Coast.

It was a night of high spirits and reminiscing for many in the crowd who have attended the concert year after year, generously donating significant sums of money in support of the performing arts. Raising $1 million after expenses is no easy task in this economy. Serious underwriting was needed to cover the cost of organizing the event, which featured a show by legendary songwriter-singer Smokey Robinson, who was backed up by talented musicians, singers and dancers.

Fronting the contingent of loyal center donors were honorary chairs of the gala Julia and George Argyros. The former U.S. Ambassador to Spain and his ultra-fashionable bride told the audience a little about their long-time love affair with Orange County, their heartfelt appreciation for the phenomenal success the region has afforded them personally, and their commitment to giving back to the community.

Joining them were fellow significant contributors, including members of the Segerstrom family, Barbara and Alex Bowie, Roberta and Howard Ahmanson, Ronnie and Byron Allumbaugh, Marsha and Darrell Anderson, and Deborah and Larry Bridges. Also among the generous were Sally and Randy Crockett, Jane and Jim Driscoll, Carol and Kent Wilken, Idit and Moti Ferder, Kathy and Cliff Fleming, Sandy and Ron Simon, Zee Allred and Drago Gligic, Ellie and Michael Gordon, and Donna and David Janes.

Year after year it is a challenge to create a spectacular setting that is new and fresh and full of surprises for a "who's who" guest list of patrons, paying thousands of dollars per person to attend the party. Some critics have suggested that the event needs to be totally reinvented, perhaps through a change of venue. Suggestions range from a tent on the adjacent courtyard to a creative destination elsewhere in Orange County, to a private estate, or simply back to the former program, which began with a performance in Segerstrom Hall followed by the raising of the curtain to reveal a spectacular dinner party on stage.

In fact, this formula remains a favorite of the crowd. Revealing the party on stage delivered a sense of awe and excitement that was enchanting, as well as theatrical. Sitting on stage, looking out at the 3,000 burgundy colored seats in the theatre provided a unique and magical perspective.

That said, this year's event which seated the guests at tables arraigned on tiers within Segerstrom Hall, after all the seating had been removed, was as breathtaking a party as one might possibly have asked for. Designers draped all the walls of the massive hall in silver and white video screens projecting a snow-covered forest where it was snowing.

"We wanted this party to sparkle," said co-chairwomen Kornyei, escorted by Michael Ruffatto of Denver and Corona del Mar.

Kornyei certainly got her wish.

Tables were covered in silver sequin cloths with varying height table centerpieces of snow-dusted orchids and crystal-covered branches. Dinner was created and served by Patina under the direction of Chef Ross Panhalligan, Chef Greg Wiele and the legendary Joachim Splichal. Dinner was superb, no easy feat for caterers serving more than 450 very particular guests.

Organizers chose to present the Smokey Robinson concert in the middle of dinner between the second course of Manila Clam Chowder, served in a rustic bread bowl and a main course of chateaubriand, served in a Cabernet sauce. The unusual program structure was a different twist for the night, enabling patrons to fully appreciate the remarkable body of work of Smokey Robinson's multifaceted career as both a performer and an incomparable songwriter creating hit after hit of popular songs for many of the great artists of our time.

If that was not enough, as the party went on into the evening, Michael Grimm, winner of "America's Got Talent," performed for the Orange County audience on his guitar. Professional dance champion Corky Ballas, father of Mark Ballas and Derek and Julianne Hough, stars of the popular "Dancing With The Stars" television show, performed a routine with dancer Jackie Josephs. Then, to the applause of the crowd, he went over to the Argyros' table and took the hand of honorary chair Julia Argyros for a spin and a dip on the dance floor.

Performing Arts Center president Terry Dwyer delivered a heartfelt speech thanking Orange County and in particular the Segerstrom family for their continuous generosity and loyalty to the values of the center. Spotted in the crowd supporting the amazing event were Marta and Raj Bhathal, Patti and Jim Edwards, Caroline Jones, Dee and Larry Higby, Twyla and Chuck Martin, Suki and Randall McCardle and the extended McCardle family members, Richard Moriarty and Loren Blackwood, Pamela Paul and Jack Cancellieri, Harriet and Sandy Sandhu, and Leslie and Dino Cancellieri.

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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