And you thought it was the Chinese "Year of the Snake."
Think again. "It's the Year of the Lyon!" Ron Merriman told the hundreds of richly clad guests gathered Saturday for a South Coast Repertory gala, the benefit that annually launches Orange County's social season.
Merriman, former board president of SCR, was referring to William Lyon, whose leadership, he said, enabled SCR to raise the final $1 million that topped off the $9-million Challenge of Excellence Campaign the theater implemented 10 years ago.
(At last year's 25th anniversary gala, Kathryn Thompson Owen surprised guests when she announced that Lyon had issued a $250,000 challenge to help raise the final $1 million.)
And it's also the year of the Lyon, Merriman announced, "because Willa Dean Lyon has put on such a party!"
Such a party Orange County had never seen. Theatrics has become the thing for the gala, which this year raised $170,000. And the more than 500 guests who paid a pricey $300 each to attend "Dramatic Directions" in Irvine got their drama-loving money's worth.
The stage: For the alfresco cocktail and hors d'oeuvres reception, the sprawling plaza deck of Park Place, where SCR designers Cliff Faulkner and Dwight Odle had created a breathtaking network of suspended neon-colored air tubes. With the help of faraway Hurricane Hugo, the weather was perfectly eerie for the avant-garde event--charcoal-colored clouds provided the canopy, and a tropical breeze caressed the hems of ball gowns.
Act I: After guests mingled and gawked at the other-worldly decor, an aerial extravaganza was presented with a mirrored ball sending off a zillion fragments of light onto the neon balloons and into the night.
Act II: Guests were invited to sweep along office corridors at Park Place, also decorated with the neon tubes, into a four-story atrium where they sat at silver Mylar-covered tables and dined on cream of broccoli soup with slivers of toasted almond, Sonoma greens with tomato rosette and edible pansies (few dared) and veal chop, Parisenne potatoes and the piece de resistance --the "Dramatic Directions" dessert, a chocolate seashell holding a pouf of blackberry mousse surrounded by whipped cream.
Act III: The dance floor. While the decor was something to write home about, and the food something to jog forever for, nothing topped the sight of the rhapsodic guests as they swayed, twirled and dipped to the Ray Anthony orchestra.
The star: Chairwoman Willa Dean Lyon, who dazzled them in a flowing sapphire chiffon gown by Oscar de la Renta, a creation she purchased to complement her six-fathom's-deep blue sapphire jewels. Her husband sported lapis lazuli studs circled with diamonds.
Co-star: Kathryn Thompson Owen, in a classic cut - to-there black velvet gown by Gildas, topped with a blinding bolero sewn with thousands of rhinestones. Hubby Gus wore a black tie and cummerbund splashed with matching glitz. ("Is half of your tie missing?" William Lyon teased Owen, as he noted Owen's half-plain, half-glittering black tie.)
Playing huge parts: SCR directors David Emmes and Martin Benson; Roger and Janice Johnson--looking like a stained-glass window walking in a gown, also designed by Gildas, gleaming with beads and stones in shades of lavender, tangerine, moss, red and white ("I won the down payment for this gown at a benefit auction," said Roger Johnson with a wink. "Doesn't Janice look gorgeous?"); Henry and Renee Segerstrom, svelte in emerald green satin by Yves Saint Laurent and matching emeralds (her philosophy of dressing? "Simplicity" she whispered); Kathy Merriman, slinky in a white gown sewn with thousands of pearlized sequins; Alex and Barbara Bowie, whose black lace creation was dotted with rhinestones ("Actually, they're diamonds," she quipped); Delane and Catherine Thyen, in a kicky lace and chiffon net creation by Christian Lacroix; Al and Deeann Baldwin, in gold-trimmed black satin by Mary McFadden; Ken and Lydia Himes, futuristic-looking in metallic-treated black leather and feathers; Andy and Olivia Johnson, sleek in Victor Costa; Jim and Sharon Henwood, whose gold brocade sheath was topped with mink trim ("It's my summer fur," she deadpanned), and Roger and Ruth Miller, in cobalt blue, also by Mary McFadden.
Other faces in the crowd: Carl and Margaret Karcher, elegant in a black, floor-length cocktail suit; Robert and Susan Beechner; Leo and Ruth Cook, stunning in ruby red taffeta; Clifford and Elaine Heinz; David and Judy Threshie; Carl and Kathy McLarand; Thomas and Barbara Peckenpaugh, also a lady in red; Tom and Marilyn Nielsen; Jack W. and Suzanne Peltason; Dale and Sharon Paisley; Jerry Patch with Susan Reeder; Peter and Gail Ochs; Jim and Lois Dailey; R.S. and Barbie Hoyt; William and Noddie Weltner, and William and Jean Wenke.