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R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : Sounds Like Night to Remember : The Alzheimer's Assn. of Orange County gets into the mood for its benefit with dancing, top hats and big band music.

August 01, 1995|KATHRYN BOLD

Big band music, top hats and canes and a Fred Astaire look-alike prepared guests to get "in the mood" at the Alzheimer's Assn. of Orange County benefit, "An Evening to Remember . . . The Big Band Era."

Big Band 2000, a 17-member orchestra, brought back memories of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and other giants of the time before a sellout crowd of 300 Saturday at the Santa Ana Heights estate of John and Donna Crean. The $75-per-person benefit was expected to net more than $45,000 for the local Alzheimer's association.

"Moonlight Serenade"

The concert took place under the stars on a well-manicured lawn of the Village Crean. A section of driveway served as a dance floor.

"We're re-creating the sounds of yesterday," said Bill Strout, leader of Big Band 2000.

Strout and his fellow musicians, a few of whom played with the original big bands, kicked off the evening with Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" and later had guests swinging to the sounds of Dorsey, Count Basie and Woody Herman. Vocalist Mike Hudson served as the evening's Sinatra, belting out nostalgic classics such as "Come Rain or Come Shine."

"Unfortunately, the big band era is over with. There's no place for it. All of the big dance halls have closed," said Strout, who used to tour with Paula Kelly. "People have found entertainment in their homes. But the music is immortal."

Clem Zeleski, a dead-ringer for Fred Astaire, tap-danced to the music in his tux and top hat. He even found a "Ginger Rogers" to accompany him, pulling event co-chairwoman Cathy Boyle onto the stage for a romantic waltz complete with Astaire-style swirls and dips.

"It's such beautiful, romantic music," said Boyle, who attended with her real-life dance partner, Dan Boyle.

"Unforgettable" Era

To help re-create the swing era, party planners set the tables in black and white linens and--in memory of Astaire--made centerpieces out of top hats, white gloves and long-stemmed red roses.

"We kept thinking Fred and Ginger," said Rosemary Carty, event co-chairwoman.

As the sun went down, guests visited the dinner buffet prepared by Sundried Tomato Cafe & Catering of Whittier. The fare included shrimp and papaya salad, beef with pesto, chicken stuffed with spinach in cream sauce and garlic mashed potatoes.

To commemorate the evening, guests had their pictures taken with Teresa Gallegos and Brian Hodgkins, volunteers dressed in Fred and Ginger formal wear. For a backdrop, they posed alongside two vintage cars--a 1952 Bel Air and a 1950 Hudson on loan from Zeb Ziemer, owner of the Old Goat Hill Tavern.

Proceeds will allow the association to serve more Alzheimer's patients and their families.

"Our office volume has tripled since [former President] Reagan made his announcement" that he has Alzheimer's, Boyle said.

Among the guests were Barbara Venezia, the evening's auctioneer; Don Power, board president; Richard and Diane Gates; Bill Carty; John and Ginny Kenny; Gordon and Barbara Fenters; Neal and Teddi Wells; Patricia Cox; Jim and Susan Vocke; Rich and Mary Lu Hamill; Marilyn Wotring; Mona Martinez; Mitch Samuelson, and Mark and Debbi Coffman.

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