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Evita was in the house Thursday night at Charleston Stage Company's 14th annual wine auction and dinner gala, which raises funds to support the theatre company's operations and educational programs. Singing Don't Cry for Me Argentina from the catwalk overlooking the Gaillard Auditorium's exhibition hall, CSC resident actor Priya Paranthaman—clad in a frock that looked like a dollop of powdery meringue—captured the attention of the 300 guests, who craned their necks skyward to see the show.
The room was illuminated with an expertly executed layered lighting scheme—production quality, crystal chandeliers, candelabras, and votives—which cast a soft focus glow across the picnic-romp-through-Grey-Gardens-with-Joni-Mitchell (or was it Diane von Furstenberg?) decor credited to event planning maestro Mitchell Crosby. The garnet and grey paisley tablecloths, gold chivari chairs, pale sheers, aubergine accents, and gold-rimmed crystal turned the otherwise stark space into a luxe bohemian enclave.
As tantalizing as the room was to survey, it was the smell of culinary delights, prepared on-site by 16 chefs, that coaxed guests to seats in record fashion. This year's participating restaurants, each of which prepared a distinct three-course meal, included 39 Rue de Jean, Charleston Grill, Circa 1886, Fat Hen, Fish, Fulton Five, Hall's Chophouse, Jasmine Porch at the Sanctuary, Mercato, McCrady's, Muse, Oak Steakhouse, Ocean Room at the Sanctuary, and Wild Olive. The menus were not for the faint of heart or girth—truffle potato soup, pistachio truffles, truffle velute collard greens, butternut squash soup drizzled with white truffle oil, frog legs, and foie gras were some of the highlights.
Amid the sea of black, a few bird of paradise gowns popped. Brushing the floor with the hem of her pumpkin colored satin number, Jo Ann Nipper's swish was on par with her characteristic sass. Jennifer McElveen's cerulean and cream colored column cut a sublime silhouette.
Although bidding during the live auction was conservative, the nonstop banter between auctioneer Ken French and emcee Greg Tavares was a show unto itself and a savvy stratagem on behalf of the stage company. To wit, at a time when gala guests often flee with guilty glee the moment an auction begins (thanks to the economy, short attention spans, and open bars), the vast majority of guests were seated, with eyes toward the stage, when the last item was sold.