Ruth Eckerd Hall was filled with red leather boots, black lacy boots, gold platform boots, lots of strappy high heels and plenty of enthusiasm at its Raise You Up gala celebrating the upcoming April run of Kinky Boots.
"This is the best one yet," Susan Benjamin, chairwoman of the performing arts center's special events committee, said of the theme. Other galas based on themes of Saturday Night Live, Flash Dance and Memphis, were great, but Kinky Boots raises the level of creativity and festivity, she added.
In a nod to some of the Broadway hit's characters, elegant drag queens welcomed guests on the red carpet and posed for photos.
"Nice outfit darling," Stephanie Shippae said to a man wearing shorts and a blue blazer with silver platform heels. Has she seen Kinky Boots yet?
"Oh gosh yes. Four times."
Alan Bomstein marveled at how far Ruth Eckerd Hall has come since he was one of the small group of people getting the project started in the late 1970s.
Home builder Charles Rutenberg, one of the original supporters, insisted on using architects trained under Frank Lloyd Wright at his Taliesin West school, he recounted.
"The design had to be world class," Bomstein said. Since then, he and wife, Nancy Bomstein,have been regulars at shows and fund raisers.
"Nancy and I are big supporters of the arts. When you think of the fabric of the community, this is what you want to keep alive."
One of his favorite shows over the years was Paul Simon several years ago. "This was his post-Africa phase and he was really into percussion. He must have had 40 instruments on stage," Bomstein recalled.
"This is world-class entertainment," said David Abelson, who co-chaired the gala with his wife, Jeanie, and son Adam. "All three of our children have been through Ruth Eckerd Hall summer programs."
Adam Abelson recalled fun times that somehow weren't scary at all at clown camp.
César and Penelope Lara raved about educational programs. "They go out and recruit kids who can't afford them on their own," Penelope Lara said.
"They learn to appreciate the gifts they have within," César Lara said. "The children come from all different backgrounds, each bringing their own uniqueness."
The gala brought in $432,800. The proceeds will fund a four-week, tuition-free intensive camp for 25 local aspiring singer-songwriters who couldn't afford it on their own. Money raised will also go toward the theater's new Teachers Without Borders program, which enables Ruth Eckerd teachers to offer free arts instruction at local schools and community centers.
The Burg Exchange Club, in conjunction with Arts Conservatory for Teens, raised more than $10,000 to go toward programs promoting arts for low-income and at-risk youth.
Guests, some dressed in "Golden Age of Hollywood" attire, included Zachary Gibson, Kathleen Cowan and Nikki Gaskin-Capehart.
The conservatory's programs include musical instruction, dance classes, art lessons and mentoring before and after school. The nonprofit organization has served hundreds of students over the last four years, with 100 percent of its students graduating high school, and nearly 80 percent going on to higher education.