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A Symphony Gala That Moves to a Bourbon Street Beat

March 06, 2001|PATT DIROLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you couldn't party on Bourbon Street on Shrove Tuesday, the next best place to let the good times roll was the Mardi Gras Symphony Gala at the Regal Biltmore Hotel. Irrepressible event planner Jim Watterson pulled out all the stops for the annual bash.

The revelry began as guests arrived amid a shower of beads and doubloons for sidecars and bubbly in the hotel's Gold Room. There, a makeup station dispensed glittery grease paint, baubles and boas for the glitz-challenged.

Washington I. Rucker's jazz band and the Viver Brasil dancers and drummers led the revelers down the hotel galleria to dinner in the Crystal Room, which had been transformed into a spectacle that rivaled New Orleans' traditional Krewe of Rex ball. Designer Brian Toffoli suspended giant golden masks over the balconies and violet lighting bathed the palm tree-lined walls. Feathered masks surrounded colorful spring blooms on the tables, where authentic Creole fare was served, including the traditional Mardi Gras king cake for dessert.

"I've seen them all," enthused veteran party maven Alyce Williamson. "But, this is the most creative event of all." Williamson, a major symphony benefactor, had donned an elaborate feathered mask for the occasion. Robbie Woodward came down from Santa Barbara sporting a lavender courtier coat with a matching lavender spiked wig. Virginia Peca made an entrance in a puce ostrich chubby. But the real scene-stealers were the models from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, wearing fabulous Carnivale costumes--especially the hunk in peacock wings, blue sequined bikini and go-go boots who led off a lively samba finale. The event raised nearly $200,000 for the Pasadena Symphony.

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Two literary wunderkinds, Michael Chabon, author of "Wonder Boys," and screenwriter Steve Kloves, who adapted the novel for the screen, were inducted into the prestigious fraternity of Scripter Awardees at the 13th annual dinner sponsored by the Friends of the USC Libraries on Saturday.

They join a roster of prior winners, including Jane Austen, Stephen King, Thomas Keneally, Anne Tyler and James Ellroy. The Scripter is academia's only prize honoring both the book and the film.

In accepting the award--a crystal book--from screenwriter Curtis Hanson, a past awardee, Chabon paid a moving tribute to teachers. "This movie is really about the relationship between a student and a teacher. I was fortunate to have fine teachers all through school and I thank them most of all," he said. Three-time Scripter winner Steven Zaillian presented the award to Kloves, whose most recent project is the adaptation of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

Joan Jani-Mimms chaired the event, which was co-emceed by comedy writer Hal Kanter and actor Gavin MacLeod. The dinner, staged in USC's Doheny Memorial Library in years past, was held in a tent erected on Trousdale Pavilion this year. The historic library has been closed for retrofitting since December 1999 and will reopen in May. Proceeds from the Scripter dinner will fund the library's preservation project and new information technology, said Friends president Sue Femino.

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Such a party for "Mamma Mia!" Following the L.A. opening of the musical at the Shubert Theatre on Thursday, first-nighters strolled over to the Century Club for pasta and sushi with the stars. The show is based on the songs of the legendary rock group ABBA, and ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus was on hand to take bows for the show he described as "the musical we never knew we had written." The show's producer, Judy Craymer, said, "I always felt there was something theatrical about those songs. The height of ABBA was from 1974 to 1981 and yet everyone still loves their music even if they don't admit to it. They've never gone out of fashion, and now a whole new generation is discovering them."

Among those spotted were Dick Clark, Olivia Newton-John, Candice Bergen, Richard Carpenter, Cheryl Ladd, Marilyn McCoo, Arte Johnson, Alan Thicke and Orson Bean.

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Coming Up

The skies over Pasadena will be aglow Saturday, when the Armory Center for the Arts presents Galaxy, a gala benefit party and silent art auction on Pasadena City Hall Square. Tickets are $200. Call (626) 792-5101.

The Tahirih Assn. will celebrate National Women's History month with a gala fund-raising event Saturday honoring Erin Gray, Lucky Altman and Dr. Xylina Bean at the Los Angeles Baha'i Center Theater. Tickets are $25. Call (323) 935-1676.

The American Youth Symphony celebrates its 36th anniversary with a gala benefit concert and dinner on Sunday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Tickets are $250. Call (310) 234-8355.

Lisa Rinna of "Days of Our Lives" will host Buttons & Bows, a children's fashion show luncheon and silent auction to benefit Caring for Babies With AIDS Sunday at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Tickets are $100. Call (323) 931-9828, Ext. 128.

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