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From Phantom to Cruella, guests take center stage

"I need blood. I need lots of blood," Liz Gordon said into her cellular phone from the St. Petersburg Women's Club. "And two 150-watt floodlights. Can you have that ready for us at the customer service desk?"

Mrs. Gordon, who placed the order for (fake) blood and other special effects Friday afternoon, was the volunteer in charge of decorations for American Stage's Dracula Bash and was on a quest for every gooey or gross manifestation of Halloween.

A crew from Wizard Studios was also there, setting up faux stone walls to simulate a Transylvanian castle. "Look at the albino roach in the coffin," said one, balancing a boxed mummy against a tree.

"Is it battery-powered? Is that why it's moving?" someone asked.

"Uh, no," was the reply. "This one isn't a prop. It's real."

"Eeeeoooo," said Lee Lowry, as people scattered.

At 8 p.m., the roach was AWOL, but cobwebs, flickering lights and random body parts remained to greet more than 200 guests, some unidentifiable, so complete were their disguises.

Was that couple _ she a shepherdess with blond curls and he in a cow costume _ Diane and Richard Winning visiting with (we think) Joe Magnani as the phantom from Phantom of the Opera and wife Linda as a flapper?

Morticia sounded like Donna Fleece, and the buzz was that the masked specter wandering around in a brocade smoking jacket was lawyer Jay Fleece.

The presence of Cruella de Ville in several corners of the room at once was not legerdemain; Susan Hough, Cherie Diez and Sue Brody all came dressed as the bewigged villainess. Mrs. Brody, with husband Mark, also sported de Ville's signature cigarette holder. "I put a Tootsie Roll in it instead of a cigarette," said the Bayfront Medical Center chief.

When Mrs. Gordon and fellow Dr. Rockit band members, including Robb Hough and Tom Stovall, launched into a set of classic rock 'n' roll, ghosts, ghouls and mummies bobbed and dipped.

More stand-out costumes: Scott Wagman and Beth Houghton as a gangster and his moll; Bill and Marion Ballard as a sea captain and first mate; Judy Sayles, Mary Wyatt Allen, Deborah Van Brunt and Caryn Rightmyer as witches; Lee Rightmyer as Dilbert with a trick tie; George Friess in monster mask and baccalaureate robe; Carol Laughlin, Debbie Dowling and Jack Weldon as vampires; Dr. Kevin Hirsch, ecumenical in a pope's cape and his wedding yarmulke, with wife Linda in a nun's habit that she shed for a mini-dress and vinyl go-go boots underneath when the band kicked into a Joe Cocker song; Lance and Lois Rodgers in animal masks; and Helen Bilodeau with American Stage's managing director Jody Kielbasa as Dracula and his bride.

As themselves were Roy and Gayle Dickson; Al May; Hazel and Bill Hough (who nevertheless managed to startle a few people with fake fangs when he smiled); Neil Schriever; David Blackman; Louise Weaver; Barbara Sobocinski and Michael Hawkins; Emily Benham; and Mike and Christine Cassidy, high bidders for a walk-on part in next spring's Shakespeare in the Park production.

Filled with balloons, bales of hay and borrowed coffins, the Mahaffey Theater complex was as creatively decorated as the costumed guests who came Saturday night to enjoy Halloween Spirits, a benefit for the theater's foundation and Les Jeunes Danseurs.

Greeting guests in the lobby beneath a giant spider web that Susanlyn Fish had stretched across the ceiling was Mahaffey Foundation executive director John Talbott in a sports coat, wife Marilyn in a Donald Duck costume, and Deborah Perry, appropriately dressed as a Star Trek officer because, as event chairwoman, she seemed to de- and re-materialize everywhere.

In the Backstage Lounge, magician Barbara Terry performed the centerpiece of her act, the hypnosis of two rabbits, as board president Jim and Emily Gillespie visited with friends nearby.

Chuck Kretchman, painful-looking screws protruding from his neck, was a convincing Frankenstein. Troy Kimbrough-Hafer as his bride was a prettier version of Elsa Lancaster and first-prize winner in the costume contest. With them were Michelle Rahn as Scarlett O'Hara and Brett Hayman as Robert E. Lee with a head injury.

While The Krypt Keepers, a band assembled for the occasion that included Roy Peter Clark, played The Monster Mash, guests mingled and danced in the Sun Pavilion. Among them were silent auction chairpeople Tim and Norni Miller; Jack and Lisa Boyle; Charles and Judy Stewart; Mike and Robyn Bayes; Jeff and Donna Hearn in western gear; Susan and Dr. Steven LeVine, who came as the Phantom of the Opera "because I'm on call tonight so all I have to do is take off the mask and cape and I won't scare anybody at the hospital;" Tom and Darlene Grayson as a Renaissance prince and page; Tom James as King Tut and Mary James as a sylph in quantities of chiffon and tulle; Bob and Donna Berman as a coach and cheerleader (she looking great in the Boca Ciega Pirates uniform borrowed from her daughter's friend); and Sasha Mielke in a face mask and blond wig that could have been inspired by The Island of Dr. Moreau.

The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated a year of challenges and achievements at Thursday's annual dinner and meeting at the Coliseum with wit, style and plaques of appreciation.

Emerging in a cloud of smoke from a stone arch on stage was outgoing chamber president David Feaster, bedecked in crown and velvet cape, who had commented earlier in the evening that "this has been a year of such serious issues, I wanted the evening to be fun."

He noted that his first board meeting last fall occurred the morning after the city's civil disturbances. "The chamber was challengedand we could respond with significant and meaningful programs," he said, citing the Entrepreneurial Academy, Mentor-Protege Program, Leadership St. Pete tutoring program and the South Central Rotary Club.

Sharing the stage were incoming president Bill Tapp and executive director Russ Sloan, who helped recognize several dozen men and women for their volunteer contributions to the community.

The crowd included Marcia Feaster; Carrie Tapp; Cary Putrino; Judith Roales; Paul Bailey; Gene Windham; Barbara Clark; Bob Decker; Rick and Joyce Baker; Joel and Anne Giles; Mac Holley; David and Robbie Punzak; Steve and Joy Edwards; John Irvin; Cheryl Richardson; Larry Fasan; Gary Sweat; Laurie Harris; Ed Schons; Rebecca Nannen; and county commissioners Bob Stewart and Calvin Harris.

The two highest honors went to James Koelsch, recipient of the Paul Getting Chamber Member of the Year award, and Gene Oliver, winner of the Community Award.

Thanking the group, Oliver articulated the feelings about his community that this roomful of civic boosters seemed to share: "Every day's a holiday, and every meal's a banquet."

_ To contact Lennie Bennett, use a Touch-Tone phone to call TimesLine at 898-0019; punch in category code 8903. Or write her at c/o City Desk, Neighborhood Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731-1121.