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ANN CONWAY

Mystery Uncorked at SCR Fund-Raiser

September 30, 1996|ANN CONWAY

What happened to the Tony?

Just when guests thought it might appear at South Coast Repertory's Embassy Ball on Saturday night, Judie Argyros dashed their hopes:

"This is a wonderful evening for SCR," she said, standing before 400 guests at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel, "but, for those who don't already know, the Tony Award that was given to SCR in 1988--the most coveted award in American theater--has been stolen!"

Guests groaned.

"Somebody asked me if I have it hidden in my hair," Argyros quipped. "My hairdresser will not be pleased."

The Tony "disappeared" a month ago, while being transported to the Argyros estate in Newport Beach for a gala patron party, she explained.

"If you hear anything, please contact SCR," she said.

George Argyros, honorary gala co-chairman with his wife, came to the microphone to make a toast: "Here's to a theater that doesn't need its Tony because it will never rest on its laurels. To the future!" he said, raising his glass.

But wait. What was that in the champagne bottle? The Tony, of course.

Talk about fund-raising as theater. South Coast Repertory pulled out the stops and props when it launched its 33rd season with an Embassy-themed fest netting $175,000.

Guests arrived on a royal-red carpet and shook hands with "dignitaries" who included the Argyroses and gala co-chairpersons John and Susan Kensey.

Mingling alfresco during the "international reception," they plucked caviar and sturgeon appetizers from silver trays bearing white linen napkins folded to resemble swans.

A brass choir serenaded guests as they buzzed about the new season's 13 plays, including three world premieres and Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman."

"'It's wonderful to think SCR is doing so well," said George Argryos, who, in a salute to the party's embassy theme, wore a scarlet and gold sash across his chest. "We all have to be proud of what they've accomplished and continue to accomplish."

(Argyros is heading tonight's GOP dinner at the Hyatt Regency Irvine--a $10,000 per couple fund-raiser. Bob Dole was supposed to attend, but canceled to prepare for his first debate with President Clinton on Sunday. "Mrs. Dole will be there," Argyros said during the SCR reception. "And so will Jack and Joanne Kemp. I would rather have Dole prepare for the debates next week than have dinner with us. I think everybody understands that.")

Martin Benson recalled that evening 8 years ago when he was handed the Tony--presented to the theater in recognition of its body of work--during ceremonies in New York. "That was the night I kissed Madonna," said Benson, SCR's artistic director. "It got to be a very reckless evening. She was making jokes about how David Emmes and I were young guys when we started the theater and had to be old guys by now.

"So, I planted one on her! That was SCR's 15 minutes of fame. We were the apple of everybody's eye."

A trumpet fanfare signaled guests to enter the gala ballroom, which the decorating committee had turned into a dining chamber fit for a king. Massive bouquets of roses, orchids and lilies flanked the stage and lined the walls. Gilt mirrors reflected a scene of tables topped with silver candelabra, gold and burgundy china and more floral bouquets.

Even the ballroom chairs were gold. And the chairs of the gala chairpersons had been given the royal treatment--they were dressed in sheer coverlets and festooned with roses, orchids and gold tassels.

"When we thought 'embassy dinner' we thought: 'gold and power and beauty and elegance,' " said Cliff Faulkner, SCR's resident scene designer. "So we brought in a lot of gold accents. The glimmer of crystal and silver adds even more to the elegance. But the whole thing is a set for playfulness. We want guests to let loose and have a wonderful time."

No problem. They dined on one of the most delicious dinners to hit the charity circuit--wild mushroom terrine with red currant sauce, rack of lamb with herbs de Provence, passion fruit mousse, mango tarts--watched an exhibition of the tango, sipped fine wines, boogied on the dance floor and took snapshots (with disposable cameras--one at each table).

Judie Argyros summed it up best: "Any time you can bond for a theater like SCR, you're a lucky person."

Also among guests: J. Michael Hagan, SCR board president, with his wife, Arlene; Byron and Ronnie Allumaugh; Larry and Dee Higby; Olivia and Andrew Johnson; Catherine McLarand; Socorro and Ernesto Vasquez; Mark and Barbara Johnson; Billur Wallerich; Barbara and Jim Glabman; Delane and Catherine Thyen; Sheila and Ygal Sonenshine; Tom and Marilyn Nielsen; Chuck and Twyla Martin; Ron and Joyce Hanson; Tom and Joyce Tucker; Christine Snyder; Katie Wheeler; Ned and Ellen Appel Olivier; and Joan and Donald Beall.

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