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Joining me Mission San Juan Capistrano's Romance of the Mission gala was its star performer and Orange County's own Susan Egan

Joining me at Mission San Juan Capistrano’s Romance of the Mission gala was its star performer and Orange County’s own Susan Egan

I always look forward to attending Mission San Juan Capistrano’s “Romance of the Mission” black-tie gala. The grounds are so beautiful with the Mission’s historic structure as backdrop, the Mission bells, the flowering gardens…it makes for such an elegant evening. This year was no exception, as 400 guests were escorted through the Mission’s new Gate House entrance and by the new Mission Gift Shop. Judging by the plethora of tempting gifts I viewed, there’s another reason to visit the Mission!

Following cocktails and scrumptious tray-passed hors d’oeuvres served by a solicitous Ritz-Carlton wait staff, guests gathered in the ruins of the Great Stone Church for a performance by one of Orange County’s own, Broadway diva Susan Egan. Susan is such a talented singer and even though she’s left Broadway to live in Irvine with her businessman husband and their two young daughters, she still performs when it fits her schedule. Accompanied by very talented pianist Stephen Cook, Egan captured hearts with her talent and her comedic repartee. She told everyone how she remembers her family bringing her to the Mission as a child (she was born in Seal Beach) and how she now enjoys bringing her daughters. “My parents were married at the Carmel Mission,” she related. Having been the original Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, for which she received a Tony nomination, Egan went on to star as Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, and was Meg in Hercules. It was following 9/11 that she remembers meeting with Stephen Schwartz about a starring role in a new musical for which he was writing the music. She turned him down. That role was Elphaba in Wicked and the other starring role, which was already cast for Glinda, was her good friend Kristin Chenoweth. “I couldn’t understand how a green-faced girl could possibly be a winning role for me,” she said, laughing. The charismatic singer won everyone’s hearts singing a Judy Garland medley, some golden Broadway standards such as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and a darling 100-words-a-minute “Mamma’s Song,” as she called it, detailing what a mother says to her children on a daily basis. It was hilarious!

Prior to Egan’s performance, Mission Executive Director Michelle Lawrence Adams welcomed everyone, especially thanking those supporters who helped make the Gate House Preservation Project a reality. “Our theme for 2013-14 is, ‘Don’t get lazy, we’re not done yet!'” she said, meaning there was more preservation and shoring up coming for the “Jewel of the Missions.”

Next up was Mission Preservation Foundation President George O’Connell, who jokingly opened, “I would have worn my flip flops, but it’s illegal to wear them in San Juan Capistrano” – that ordinance was recently passed in the fair city! O’Connell introduced Bishop Kevin Vann, the new bishop of the Diocese of Orange. O’Connell then recognized the evening’s honorary chair Michael Hagan, a founding Mission Preservation board member, for his service and generosity.

As the Mission bells rang, guests gathered in the Mission’s central courtyard for a delicious four-course dinner catered by the Mission’s community partner, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. The dinner tables, beautifully decorated with flowering centerpieces and softly lit by pedastaled column candles, were breathtaking. Lawrence introduced the gala committee, which included Diana Arrigoni, Barb Beier, Jodie Cerruti, Georgianna Hales, Wendy Mulvihill, Michelle Sukut, Mozelle Sukut, Madeline Swinden, and Marianne Taylor, and cries of pleasure were heard as winners of the opportunity prizes were announced by Ritz-Carlton GM Bruce Brainerd and foundation member Connie Spenuzza. All too soon the magical evening was at a close as guests departed past the beautiful Serra Chapel to their waiting cars. An estimated net of $220,000 was raised for the Mission and its ongoing preservation.

Selected photos by Carla Rhea