Pasta and Puccini

“I don’t know where to focus,” exclaimed an elegant long-gowned guest as she entered the new Jefferson Performing Arts Center for the 20th annual Pasta and Puccini Gala Fundraiser and the celebration of the 38th season of the Jefferson Performing Arts Society. The gala benefits the society’s “cultural endeavors, intern and children’s programs.”

Indeed, the focus was delightfully dispersed. Many of the P & P-goers were inside the Jefferson Performing Arts Center for the first time and were duly wowed; the attendees were turned out in their finest, black tie and, for the most part, long gowns; VIPs congregated in a cordoned-off section, and head-turning was rife; and the decorations by Perfect Presentations and Johnny Lopez captured the floral focus. For the major-sponsor tables, small vases of roses were placed atop white linens. At the building’s entrance, roses in colors of fuchsia and lush orange were combined with hydrangeas and greenery in tall, base-lighted vases.

A silent auction was an immediate eye-catcher and guests perused the choice items to make their bids. A live auction of a quartet of covetables occurred later within the theater space, raising thousands of dollars.

All the while, cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres sated the immediate appetite. On the second floor, pasta and a carving station offered heartier fare. Post-performance desserts capped the evening with a sweet touch.

Names to recognize and thank were manifold, starting with gala sponsor Jeri (Mrs. Robert) Nims, who was not present because of travels, but headed the top donor category, Turandot. Then came La Rondine donors, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Shane, who appeared on the stage, as did some of the other benefactors. The in absentia Sandra and Russ Herman reaped gratitude for underwriting the patron party. They figured in the Manon Lescaut list of donors, along with Entergy, First NBC Bank, Raymond James at The Galleria, Laurie and Jeff Young, and Gerri and Murray Valene, who chaired Pasta and Puccini. Gerri’s fabulous frock, an Alice and Olivia design, turned every head.

Leading the troops was Dennis Assaf, the JPAS maestro, for whom the new JPAC was a 37-year dream. The following week, he conducted the Verdi opera, “Rigoletto,” at the center, drawing many of the gala attendees. Huge ovations, too. Nicholas Frederick answers to JPAS managing director and Valerie Hart, among other titles, to Pasta and Puccini coordinator. Carrel Epling presides over the JPAS Leading Ladies Guild and Hannah Cunningham is the JPAS co-founder and board chairwoman.

Further luminaries in the P&P pack were JPAS President Joy Shane, whose JPAS officers are Debbie Rouen, Lynn E. Skidmore, Sharon Hannahan, Louis S. Nunes III, Freddie G. Landry, and Kellie M. Barnes. Noted making rounds were Jefferson Parish President John Young, Ashton and Jolene Ryan, John and Jackie Morgan, Donna and Gary Roebke, Sibyl White, Nora Vaden Holmes, Marian and Larry Gibbs, Larry Epling with Carrel, Dionne and Chris Coulon, former Jefferson Parish President Tim and Mary Coulon, Joan and LaMarr Ingram, Jacquee Carvin, Teresa and Don Guzzetta, Frank and Paulette Stewart, Faith and Bill Peperone, Ronnie and Gardner Kole, Dianne Breaux, Irene Klinger, Kenner Mayor Michael Yenni and Michelle, Elaine and Douglas Grundmeyer, Janie Kahn, Jane and Bruce Miller, Suzanne L. Parker, Jennifer Van Vrancken, Ginger Crawford and countless others.

At 8:15, everyone went into the theater for the live auction with “Escape to San Francisco & Sonoma,” an emerald ring from Symmetry, and art from James Michalopoulos and Hunt Slonem thrilling the crowd and purchased, in turn, by Murray Valene, Ronnie Kole, John Morgan, and Michelle Yenni, while Henry Shane and former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards acted as celebrity auctioneers. When he was stirring up increases in bidding, Edwards said, “I’m a politician, I’m not used to dealing with such low numbers.” Guffaws followed. Copping the raffle of a New York theater trip was Michele Silva.

Along with the auction, the stage was commanded by performers presaging JPAS productions. When “bravos” ensued, they encompassed the entire gala and all its attributes.

n Al Fresco and Alférez

The New Orleans Botanical Garden Foundation held its sixth annual Magic in the Moonlight, a gorgeous al fresco affair, to showcase the new Helis Foundation Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden in City Park. It is at the entrance of the above garden and Storyland. Represented by David Kerstein, the foundation was the guest of honor and Dr. Tlaloc Alf é rez, daughter of the late sculptor, the honored guest.

Dessa Giffen and Edmund Redd — in attendance with spouses David and Anne — teamed to chair the gala and its committee of dozens. The top sponsors, Magnolia category, consisted of Anne and Herschel Abbott, Baptist Community Ministries, Susan and Jimmy Gundlach, and IberiaBank. The Botanical Garden staff reaped thanks galore.

Cocktailing in the Sculpture Garden launched the levity that segued into a seated dinner at an ultra-long table under the celestial stars. “Outstanding on all accounts,” described the three-course meal by chef Susan Spicer. The flowers, too, which were mostly donated by Dunn and Sonnier and done by Sarah Young (with George) and her committee.

Auction ado figured into the fete. For the live portion, there was an Enrique Alférez reproduction; 13 other items enticed in the silent part.

Within the “Magic” constellation were BGF board President David Waller with Barbara, director Paul Soniat, mistress of ceremonies Juli Miller Hart, Anne Abbott, City Park CEO Bob Becker, Muffin and Luis Balart, Laura and Philip Claverie, Ruthie and Lou Frierson, Paul and Renee Masinter, Sybil and Blair Favrot, Beverly Matheney, Sandra Pulitzer, Jackie and Vincent Palumbo, Natalie Finnegan, Mary Ellen Miller and Clifford, Marla Donovan, Rene Fransen and Eddie Bonin, Rebecca Schultz, Dana and Steve Hansel, Margo and Clancy DuBos, Liz and Poco Sloss, auctioneer Bryan Batt, Marla Garvey, and others, whose support raised funds for the creation of the Arrival Garden and Conservatory Court.

To set “Magic” to music, The Leroy Jones Quintet filled the sidereal bill.

Boo La La

An entrenched and oh-so-popular event, Boo at the Zoo, presented by Bryan Subaru, amassed its usual thousands over four nights at the Audubon Zoo, a beneficiary along with Children’s Hospital. It’s hailed as a safe, fun-filled Halloween event for children up to age 12.

Fun was on the agenda with the Zombie-themed Ghost Train Ride and the Toddler Area in the Cool Zoo (no running water!) as some of the multitude of favorites. So were the attractions on the three entertainment venues, such as Johnette Downing, Star Wars performers, Marvel characters, and, at the opening event, Marvel Super Hero Night.

Basketball became a huge focus, thanks to appearances by several Pelicans players and UNO and Loyola team members, who, along with the New Orleans Jesters Soccer, gave out candy and signed autographs.

Noted were Laura and Philip Claverie with grandchildren Rylan and Amelia; Julie and Scott Habetz with daughters Brooke, Ellie , Courtney and baby Victoria; Caroline and David Kearney with Laine and Patrick; Catherine and Sandy Bellaire with Emma and friends Abigail Spera and Anna Hayne; Aleis and Jay Tusa and Katie — all dressed as Smurfs; friends Nicole Bruhn and Lyndsey Graham with their respective sons, Ridge and Grayson; Shirelle and Joel Vilmenay with Alexia and Langston; Lauren and Devin Wakeman with Barrett and Connor; and Marc Bond with Graycen. All the kids were cleverly costumed.

And Brooke and Dr. Hugo St. Hilaire with Adele, Ellie, Caroline Cate and Ana Rose; Dr. Maria and Steve Weimer with Camille and James; and France and Tola Roberts with Isabella and Naomia. More costumes!

“Happy Halloween” was the constant refrain.