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Ann Conway

Annual Arts Center Benefit Still Draws Crowd

December 16, 1986|ANN CONWAY

There was more than candlelight flickering in the hearts of committee members who planned Sunday night's 13th annual Christmas Candlelight Concert benefit for the Performing Arts Center.

There was a flicker of fear.

Now that the Arts Center dream had become a reality, would more than 1,000 guests want to pay $150 per ticket and trek to the Disneyland Hotel to cram yet another Arts Center-sponsored performance into their holiday schedules? Could, heaven forbid, the Center--the very beneficiary of Orange County's most romantic fund-raiser--become an unwitting Grinch that would steal the Christmas Candlelight Concert?

Not on your sugar plums.

"We got the same sold-out response," said chairman Carol Wilken minutes before the reception began. "It's incredible. We weren't sure with all of the performances going on at the Center if people would even have time for tonight. But almost 1,400 people are coming. We hope to (net) $100,000."

They came, all right, swept through the glass doors of the hotel's Grand Ballroom reception area as if the event were their very first. Rushing to coat-check, former Arts Center board chairman John Rau said he wouldn't consider missing it. "It's such a tremendous celebration of joy," he said, wife Kitty's ranch mink slung over his arm. "I like to come and think back to what we were, where we've come from and what we are.

"This started out as a concert in an abandoned 5- and 10-cent store. And now look at it. It's hot! It's the kind of benefit every charity longs for--people standing in line to get in. Entire tables sold out. And the juicy thing about it is--table priority.

"You get the best seats depending on how long you've been going. Some people who've given a lot of money to the Center still have to sit in the back." Rau called his third-row-center table the "best spot in the house."

Arts Center board member Floss Schumacher, who, before Wilken took the baton, chaired the event for eight years, said she had been at the hotel that very afternoon to watch rehearsal. "I just couldn't stay away," said Orange County's quintessential hostess. "It gets to be habit. And rehearsal can be more fun than anything. Attendance tonight is unbelievable. We were afraid it might go down. But people love this party. It will go on forever!"

During cocktails, Center activist Marcie Mulville recalled the first Candlelight Concert. "The lights were so dim, we couldn't see our food. But we could hear the music. That was the important thing."

Former Center board chairman Elaine Redfield remembered the first concert as being held in some "empty, cavernous place transformed into something very pretty. They used candlelight to keep us from seeing how ugly the place really was." Hal Segerstrom attended with wife Jeanette--gowned in Christmas-red lace and sequin-frosted red shoes--and their four children and spouses. "We always attend with our children," said the co-managing partner of C. J. Segerstrom & Sons, owner of South Coast Plaza. "We're a very close-knit family. We get together at least once a month to have dinner or see a concert--all 10 of us."

After a candlelight dinner of steaming lobster bisque, filet of beef, quail and bombe souffle Noel, Performing Arts Center president Tim Strader took the stage to formally announce that proceeds from the Center's opening week's fund-raising efforts exceeded the $1 million previously announced. "Opening night festivities raised $1.3 million," he said.

Strader said the proceeds would be used for the Center's annual operating fund, as would proceeds from the Candlelight Concert.

Earlier, Strader's wife, Susan, wearing strapless, Emerald City-green metallic taffeta, explained that a group that she helped found--Performing Arts Juniors--had, that very afternoon, attended a Center performance for the first time. "It's so nice not to have to go all the way to Los Angeles or Long Beach or San Diego anymore," she said.

After a begrudged 15-minute intermission, guests settled back to hear maestro Keith Clark conduct the Pacific Symphony in selections including "Overture to Die Fledermaus," "Fantasia on Greensleeves" and "A Christmas Festival." Mezzo-soprano Gail Dubinbaum sang, among other selections, a moving rendition of "Oh Holy Night." The Master Chorale of Orange County, directed by Maurice Allard, performed "Ave Maria" and "Songs of Christmas" and the "Hallelujah Chorus" from the "Messiah."

Assisting on the concert committee were James Feichtmann, Carol Heywood and Judith Rosenthal. Also among those attending were Arts Center board director William Lund with his wife, Jan, Irene Bentley, Arts Center executive vice president Diane Dailacis, Nora and Vin Jorgensen (he's a board vice president in charge of membership) and Thomas Kendrick, executive director of the Performing Arts Center, and Judy Morr, Arts Center general manager.

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