CORONADO — In the tiny hours Sunday, more than 1,000 souls traveled home from this peninsula through clammy barricades of fog that at times had the consistency of a light consomme aux Xeres , and at others of an overly creamy puree des asperges Argenteuil.
The mists that lurked along the Coronado Bridge frequently obscured the view of San Diego, but in the mind's eye, the city lights never seemed brighter, perhaps because of the message of "Spotlight on San Diego," the 79th annual Charity Ball.
The ball, San Diego's oldest, most traditional and most entrenched social event, benefits Children's Hospital and Health Center, and proceeds from "Spotlight" are expected to exceed last year's record of $230,000.
Given in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel del Coronado for a tightly packed crowd--ball chairman Sandra Pay confessed that there had been such a clamor for tickets that even she didn't know how many more than 1,000 guests were present--the ball deviated from some of its past formality by noisily celebrating the city it benefits.
Reviving a tradition that enlivened earlier balls but had been discarded in recent years, "Spotlight" kicked off with a splashy and vibrant musical revue in which a cast of about 50 civic notables serenaded their pals and peers with a series of tributes to several of San Diego's brighter moments.
The show started relatively late in the evening, thanks to the Charity Ball's adherence to the classic ball formula in which dinner and other early amusements are considered extraneous to the ball itself, which is devoted strictly to dancing and entertainment. (In other days, guests never arrived before 11, but midnight was more fashionable, and departing near or at dawn was considered quite correct.)
At least half of the guests opted to share in the formal dinner in the Crown Room so they could be part of the traditional grand procession through the lobby to the Grand Ballroom. As always, the route was lined with hotel guests who seemed more than a little surprised to witness such formality in the erstwhile domain of surf 'n' sand.
This year, Murray Korda and the Mon seigneur Strings serenaded the grand march; the group's violins still smoked from Friday, when the musicians played for Luciano Pavarotti at an Orange County reception, and from Thursday, when they performed before President and Mrs. Reagan at the opening of the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert.
The crowd had been warned that the "Blue Danube," the waltz that always officially opens the ball, would be delayed until after the show, which made it easier for ushers to march the guests to the coveted boxes (retained in families like jewels) that lined the dance floor. The guests also quieted when asked, no doubt anticipating a demure, home-spun entertainment, but receiving something utterly different.
The revue made no bones about its intentions when its opening chorus announced that, although the ball was given for the cream of high society, "This evening we say to hell with all propriety!" And the singers delivered on their promise, romping through skits that spotlighted the ball itself, the America's Cup, the Super Bowl, the City of San Diego ("Naughty Newark doesn't hold a candle/To our city when it comes to scandal") and Children's Hospital. This last number, "Love Is the Reason," was performed by a group of children led by former San Diego Charger Willie Buchanon.
The "Spotlight on Our Show Town" brought together the Old Globe's Craig Noel, the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre's Kit Goldman, the Opera's Ian Campbell and Bob McGlade of the Starlight Opera for a tribute that took the amiable form of a soft-shoe routine.
The America's Cup segment featured tap-dancing songsters--all with longstanding Charity Ball affiliations--in 1930s sailors caps and Shirley Temple costumes. The show closed with the City Scene Showgirls, the leggier members of the troupe, who paraded out wearing enormous painted representations of city scenes, including a tinsel-decked replica of the Coronado Bridge, the span of which measured more than two yards.
The applause had barely begun to fade when the Michael Sullivan Band struck up the "Blue Danube;" the boxes and tables emptied and the ball was on in earnest.