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Photography by Debora Robinson

South Coast Repertory’s 34th annual Gala Ball, “Setting the Stage,” opened the theatrical and social seasons inOrangeCounty with an event that took partygoers behind the scenes and turned them into stars.

Chaired by Beth Phelps, the evening of dining and dancing at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa captured all the glitter, and perhaps a little of the grease paint, of an actual opening night.

According to Phelps, “Because SCR is, after all, a theatre—one of the finest inAmerica—what better way to celebrate than with our own stunning production.”

The show opened as guests were greeted at South Coast Repertory’s ‘Stage Door’ by Artistic Director Marc Masterson and his co-CEO, Managing Director Paula Tomei.

Then, grasping official invitations to join the theatre troupe in the one-night-only production of “Setting the Stage,” they entered a bustling ‘Backstage’ area.

On hand to check hair and makeup, adjust costumes, test sound and lights, and possibly even go over lines with the potential stars were ‘Crew’ members—theatrical artisans attired in the typical black garb worn backstage during a show.

Amid panels displaying set and costume renderings and photos of artists at work, guests sipped the evening’s signature drink, Stage Door Johnnie, enjoyed tray-passed hors d’oeuvres and greeted other ‘Cast Members’ during the backstage reception.

At 6:45 p.m., the traditional call rang out (“Fifteen minutes to places!”), and the stars of the show made their way into the ballroom—their stage for the evening.

By the final call at 7 p.m. sharp (“Places, please, for the Banquet Scene!”) guests were settled in the ballroom at tables decorated in the theme colors of chartreuse and aubergine.  Overhead hung four stunning works of art—design pieces filled with theatrical props from which lights glowed down onto the ballroom and its two stages—one with curtains open on a gathering of SCR-costumed mannequins, and the other a bandstand for the evening’s orchestra and entertainment.

SCR Board of Trustees Vice President Sophie Cripe kicked off the show by welcoming the evening’s ‘Cast’ to an exciting moment in SCR history—the culmination of its first season with new leadership in place.  “And what a success it has been,” she said, as she introduced Masterson and Tomei, “with Marc and Paula leading the way, aided by strong support from the board, its founding artistic directors and its always-involved community.”

The co-CEOs lauded the Gala Committee, introduced Beth Phelps—in her ‘Leading Role’ as Gala Chair—and showered her with the traditional opening night flowers.

Phelps thanked her 46-member Gala Committee and the table hosts and sponsors for making “Setting the Stage” the perfect beginning of a new season.  To make the event even more auspicious, she announced that the Gala will achieve its goal, netting $500,000 for SCR’s artistic and educational programs.

“SCR has come a long way,” she said, “and a great future lies ahead, thanks to all of you who have starred in tonight’s show.  Your generosity to South Coast Repertory will help make the 49th Season  another artistic and financial success.”

As the applause died down, dinner commenced, followed by occasional pauses so that partygoers could meet  in the ‘Green Room’ for a chocolate break, provided by G. Salt Gourmet.  Then came the grand ‘Cast Party’—dancing the night away to the music of SCR donor John Tu’s big band, J.T. and the California Dreamin’, until the curtain fell on “Setting the Stage,” the first hit of SCR’s 2012-13 Season.

 www.scr.org