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Behind The Scenes : Summer Togs Soak It Up at 'Splash-O-Rama' AIDS Benefit

September 17, 1993

The more you pay for your seat, the wetter you'll get, promisedfund-raiser organizers.

No, it wasn't a front row seat to free Willy as Michael Jackson sang "Will You Be There," but there was something of Jackson and plenty of water, all for a great cause. The event? "Splash-O-Rama: The All Wet '50s Musical" Sunday in Laguna Beach to benefit the AIDS ServicesFoundation of Orange County.

Sunday was the last of three weekend performances by an all-volunteer cast and crew that created a 90-minute production of be-bop songs wrapped around a message of hope.

Director Penny Marshall taped the voice of Sister Mary Kaye, who in the musical grants the star of the show, Nathan Greene, 8, of Laguna Beach, his wish for a magical radio. As the show closed, heard over the radio was this fantasy announcement:

"This news flash just in," read the make-believe announcer, "The American Medical Assn. has confirmed today that, in a recent study group, the JS-9595 drug has been 100% effective in killing HIV. This new medication will be available shortly for worldwide distribution and in effect, will wipe out AIDS forever."

Each year since 1985, Al Roberts and Ken Jillson have opened up their Laguna Beach back yard to stage "The Big Splash," a show to raise money for ASF. The nonprofit group offers free nursing, counseling, food and other help to men, women and children in Orange County who are living with AIDS. In eight years, "Big Splash" productions have raised more than $1.6 million for ASF, which is the largest AIDS agency in the county.

In Orange County, 2,800 people have been diagnosed with the AIDS virus, according to Orange County Health Care Agency.

More than 1,000 tickets were sold for the three performances; waterlogged front row seats went for $10,000 each. In the end, $350,000 was raised, all of it earmarked for ASF clients.

In addition to ticket sales, money came from auctioning a few celebrity items: Michael Jackson's autographed fedora from his "Billie Jean" videobrought $7,000; Elizabeth Taylor's purple-beaded gown sold for $6,500 (and was presented to costume designer Kim Clark), and Cher's autographed luggage raised $550.

The fashion accessory necessary for generous guests to fully enjoy the close-up water ballet performances? A communal tarp, provided by the hosts, and drip-dry clothes.

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