What: Swingin’ With Sophisticated Ladies, the 18th Annual Arena Stage Benefit for Community Engagement.
Where: Lincoln Theatre.
When: Tuesday, May 4, from 6 until midnight.
Ticket price: $500
Attire: The organizers called it “cotton club couture.” We’d call it business attire with a smattering of 1920s fashion.
Who: The cream of Washington’s arts community and its supporters gathered for a night of food and culture. Upwards of $30,000 was raised for Arena Stage’s education and community-outreach programs, which bring art and theater into the lives of 20,000 local young people each year. Major sponsors included Clark Construction, Lockheed Martin, ExxonMobil, Pepco, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, and L-3 Communications. Maryland congresswoman Donna Edwards, Wisconsin congresswoman Gwen Moore, DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Miss District of Columbia 2009 Jennifer Corey, and NBC4 sportscaster Lindsay Czarniak schmoozed at a cocktail reception and buffet dinner before heading into a special performance led by Maurice Hines and cast members of Arena Stage’s Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies. The company’s American Artist and American Voice award was presented to actor James Earl Jones—who was unexpectedly unable to attend—and congressman Norman D. Dicks for their contributions to the arts community.
Scene: A cavernous white tent was set up behind Lincoln Theatre. Guests and staff dressed in flapper garb contributed to a distinctly 1920s-era atmosphere. The evening’s entertainment included a parade of “Sophisticated Ladies”—notable female members of the Washington community—who strutted across the stage pageant-style as their names were announced, and a choreographed number set to the Duke Ellington song “Satin Doll” that featured a surprisingly limber congressman Jessie Jackson, Jr. and NBC4 reporter Tom Sherwood. A stunning Champagne and dessert reception followed the performance.
Food: Waiters offered trays of assorted hors d’oeuvres before setting up a dinner buffet provided by Ulah Bistro. Seared beef, golden beets, corn souffle, and pappardelle in a light cream sauce were among the offerings. It was the dessert buffet, though, that stole the show: Marshmallow pops with chocolate-cake centers, homemade chocolate bark with cranberries, miniature banana tartlets, and a dizzying array of truffles were enough send anyone’s sweet tooth into overdrive.
Funniest moment: Maurice Hines created a special dance step for President Obama, one that he could use “when he gets in trouble with those pesky Republicans.” Hines then proceeded to tap his feet aggressively, leaning back on his heels and throwing his hands up as though to dismiss the audience from his presence. Thunderous laughter commenced.
Most inspiring moment: Brothers John and Leo Manzari, local high-school students and tap-dance stars who were discovered by Hines and are currently starring in Sophisticated Ladies, shared the stage with their mentor in a special number showing off their considerable raw talent.
Most awkward moment: During dinner, Arena Stage managing director Edgar Dobie quickly explained that James Earl Jones wouldn’t be able to accept his award in person because after a run of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in London’s West End, “he was tired.” Later, during the award-presentation ceremony, we found out that he wasn’t just tired—the Star Wars actor had been hospitalized for exhaustion. Oops.
Bold face guests: 3 (out of 5)
Swankiness: 3 (out of 5)
Food/Drinks: 3 (out of 5)
Overall Exclusivity: 4 (out of 5)
Total score: 13 (out of 20)