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DSC_0194“Pink Panther” cocktails were just the ticket at the Philharmonic Society of OrangeCounty’s annual gala, “An Evening with Mancini,” at Segerstrom Center’s Samueli Theater. The late celebrated composer Henry Mancini, who won four Academy Awards, 20 Grammys and two Emmys, has a daughter named Monica Mancini, who is obviously cut from the same cloth. She may not be a composer, but she can certainly sing. And, sing she did at the 160-guest benefit that was a musical tribute to her legendary father. With a fantastic seven-piece band opening with her father’s iconic jazz theme from The Pink Panther film series (it’s the 50th anniversary), the double Grammy-nominated singer stole everyone’s hearts with her smooth-voiced renditions of “Moon River,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Charade”, “Two for the Road,” and “Meggie’s Theme” from The Thorn Birds mini-series, among many others. I spoke with Ginny Mancini, Monica’s mother, who had a stint as a notable studio singer in her own right. “Monica is carrying on the tradition,” she said proudly.

The elegant affair – how could it be anything but elegant with Mancini’s music? – showcased the theater transformed into a sumptuous dinner palace with rectangular antique mirrored tables as well as tabletops covered in sheer silver crinkled silk. The all-white florals – roses, tulips, hydrangeas, and white lilacs – were spectacular, with bowls of floating gardenias the ultimate touch. Add to that four-foot crystal candelabra with real tapers and sparkling Lucite chairs, and guests were transported. Kudos to Sunny Ravanbach of White Lilac for the transformation! Kudos also to Patina Restaurant Group for the scrumptious dinner and to Heitz Cellars for the superb wines.

The live auction saw some wonderful offerings, with Philharmonic board member Dave Rosenberg walking off with two of the best – Philharmonic Society President and Artistic Director Dean Corey’s and his wife Kaley’s dinner for six in their home (billed as the last auction dinner offered by the gourmands before Dean’s retirement in 2014) and a superb wine trio including a 1986 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, 1985 Krug Champagne and a 1988 Chateau Y’Quem. Corporate Sponsor Mikimoto offered a gorgeous Akoya cultured pearl necklace, which was won by Philharmonic supporters Paul and Lilly Merage. The Fund a Need portion of the auction saw guests raise $67,500 for the the Philharmonic’s “Strike Up the Band!” program, whereby instruments are put into the hands of schoolchildren. Following the announcement by Dean that an anonymous donor had proposed a $1 million challenge grant that would match new and increased gifts through June, 2014 in honor of the Philharmonic Society’s approaching 60th anniversary year, guests jump started the campaign by bidding another $67,500.

Gala chairs Marsha Anderson and Marta Bhathal (a Mancini fan, it was her idea to do the tribute) headed an illustrious committee, including board chairman Sabra Bordas. Guests departed with a bottle of Heitz Cellar Sauvignon Blanc and an offer of 10% of anything purchased at Mikimoto South Coast Plaza before April 30th designated for the nonprofit. The bottom line? More than $175,000 was netted (excluding the challenge grant monies) to benefit the Philharmonic Society and its nationally recognized Youth Music Education programs. Hear! Hear!

Selected photos: Peggy O’Donnell