SAN DIEGO — Acting on the theory that it's the little things that make the difference, the new Omni San Diego Hotel coyly sent away the guests who attended its grand opening gala Friday with a tiny gift.
These were simply Omni key rings, slipped onto drivers' keys by the parking valets when no one was looking. The message was clear, though, and direct: "Remember the Omni next time you're downtown."
More than 500 guests crowded through the doors of the Broadway Circle hostelry for a six-hour celebration of the performing arts given as a benefit for the San Diego Repertory Theatre's 6th Avenue Playhouse. It was a remarkable turnout for the Rep, which does have a loyal following, but this was an unusually big-ticket, formal event.
Classy Stage Show
The guests were drawn by more than the opening of the hotel. Many of them must have sensed that something special would happen that evening, as it did--the Rep mounted perhaps the grandest, classiest stage show to be presented at any San Diego County fund-raiser in this decade.
The show capped a party that spread out over three floors of the hotel and provided entertainment in every corner large enough to house a performer and audience. A mime, a pair of harlequins and a brass quintet greeted guests in the courtyard and sent them in to hear singers in the lobby lounge, watch exhibition dancers in the City Colors discotheque, listen to classical harp music in the Plaza Room, jive to the Will Parsons Quartet's jazz offerings in the Harbor Room, and tap their toes in imitation of the Stemware Steppers clogging troupe on the third-floor, poolside terrace.
Guests also nibbled at hors d'oeuvres buffets set up everywhere, of which the most popular may have been the chilled shellfish displays in the Festival dining room. (If the arrangements seem to have been engineered to assure that guests would see as much of the hotel as possible, they were, but this is not unusual for a grand opening. A special relationship between the Omni and the Rep was fostered by Jack Berkman, a theater board member whose public relations firm, Berkman & Daniels, represents the hotel.)
A Few Big Names
The crowd numbered quite a few downtown movers-and-shakers-cum-theater buffs, including Horton Plaza developer Ernest Hahn, who described the hotel as a rather nice addition to his shopping complex; Meridian condominium developer Walter Smyk; Chamber of Commerce board chairman Bill Nelson, and Centre City Development Corp. Executive Vice President Gerald Trimble, who declared the Omni to be "an excellent statement for downtown San Diego, an urban hotel that should lend much to the area's street life."
After the guests had had more than enough opportunity to make the rounds of the various public rooms, a trumpet fanfare summoned them up the double staircase to the second floor California Ballroom, a comfortable room colored in soothing, pale peach shades. The first of the meal's five courses was already on the table, and guests wasted little time digging into the combo of smoked shrimp and chilled black pasta. Dinner continued with a white Cabernet sorbet; veal medallion paired with lobster tail (a kind of yuppie surf 'n turf); salad, and frozen amaretto souffle.
Rep Gets $80,000
As expected, the evening was not allowed to slip away without a certain amount of speeches, made mostly during the meal and sometimes to the harmonic accompaniment of busy knives and forks. Theater President Jennifer Hankins drew cheers when she announced that the Parker Foundation that day had issued the Rep an $80,000 challenge grant.
"This challenge is just what we need," Hankins said. "It's an incentive for the community to get behind the theater."
Rep Artistic Director Douglas Jacobs also received an enthusiastic response when he thanked the crowd for supporting his 12-year dream of molding a nationally recognized theater company.
"San Diego is becoming a place that great artists can call home," he said. "It is undergoing an artistic renaissance of astounding proportions."
Omni San Diego developers Arthur Py and Thomas Vavra took turns greeting the crowd. Vavra amused the audience by treating it to a very detailed recitation of the hotel's specifications, including the information that the structure contains 34 acres of dry wall. You learn something new every day.
All this set the stage for a show that burst like a small explosion and kept the audience raptly attentive for more than an hour. In "Salute to Firsts in the American Musical Theater," a 13-member cast sang and danced through about 120 years of American stage productions, beginning with a number from "The Black Crook," which premiered in 1866 and purportedly was the first musical extravaganza written in the United States. The show closed with a tribute to a competing local stage by offering a number from Roger Miller's "Big River," the musical that took the La Jolla Playhouse to Broadway.