The Gabby Guy celebrates The Grand Pioneers at The Grand Opera House before The Grand Gala. How very grand.
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The Grandest Gala Yet
Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker has proclaimed December 5 as Grand Pioneers Day to honor the group of community leaders, now called The Grand Pioneers, naturally, who, in 1971, led the ambitious five-year restoration of The Grand Opera House. A lovely party before The Grand Gala celebrated the group, which kicked off a new era on Market Street all those years ago.
Formally attired friends and patrons of the arts gathered in the lobby of the Baby Grand to chat and reminisce. We met Ms. Marsha Metrinko of New York City, in a long black-sequined pant suit and layered hematite chain necklaces, who was “visiting her sister in the country.” Said her younger sib, the one-and-only Michele Rollins, “I love visiting my big sis in the big city, and she loves coming here. It’s a win-win for everybody.” Ms. Metrinko is senior director of development for the New York School of Law and an avid theater-goer. We asked her thoughts on the current downtown renaissance. “It’s good to see it all finally coming together,” she said. “I agree completely” said Michelle, who, in her Russian-inspired, burgundy and gold brocade coat and fur-trimmed hat looked ready to a tea room near Carnegie Hall.
We introduced ourselves to Peter and Jonnie Scobell of Studio Scobell, a recording studio in Wilmington. Peter wore black-and-white Converse Chuck Taylors, and Jonnie’s kicky, retro cocktail frock certainly caught our attention. “We are both children of the ’80s and huge Brian Setzer fans,” said Jonnie. (Setzer, formerly of The Stray Cats, was the performer of the evening.) Added Peter, “We love rockabilly and racy lyrics. And Jonnie has such a sweet, angelic voice, perfect for bawdy, slightly naughty songs.” Of course, we had to ask for a PG-13 sample, so a blushing Jonnie coyishly sang, “His ornaments are rockin’, so I’m hangin’ up my stockins” (her own composition).
Michael and Karen Stein quickly directed attention to “the real story,” introducing Michael’s mother, Barbara Stein. Mrs. Stein, who with her husband and their oil company, helped energize the original renovations by “keeping everybody warm.” “We gave a lot of oil—and were glad to,” she said slyly. “I can say that now, 38 years later.”
Grand Opera House chairman Francis Panella did as he toasted the pioneers by saying, “Thank you for fearlessly facing today’s challenges exactly as you did by commencing these immense and impressive renovations 38 years ago.” He then read the inscription on the plaque dedicated to the pioneers, which is now on permanent display at The Grand. Executive director Stephen Bailey also raised a glass to the pioneers. “Back in ’71, the grand old lady of Market Street was an unimaginable dream, but thankfully not for the brave dreamers gathered here tonight.”
Entering the Brian Setzer show, we asked always-amiable Governor Jack Markell if he was a fan of rockabilly music. “Well, my wife tried singing some Stray Cats for me to refresh my memory, then she put on a CD.” Whereupon First Lady Carla broke in. “I should leave the singing to Mr. Setzer,” she said, “but Jack got the point.”
“It’s nice to finally have a governor and first lady who appreciate and support the arts in Delaware,” Tatiana Copeland said on her way into the theater. Mrs. Copeland, dazzling in an ensemble studded with holiday gemstones, is, of course, proprietess of the esteemed Bouchaine Vineyards. She did say how nice it was to attend the gala this year solely as a guest. (Last year’s gala and Grand season was dedicated to the Copelands.) “The pressure is off,” she exhaled as she entered the Grand’s velveted vault.
Congressman Mike Castle, attending with his wife, Jane, let us know in no uncertain terms that he was “a fan of the Grand.” The show itself was a sellout that had 1,200 hipsters mingling with people of all ages bopping to the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s energetic holiday tunes and a few Stray Cats classics. (Setzer led the popular trio in the 1980s.) Was that volunteer usher Ricky Wolf, wearing a black-and-white 1960s optic-print jacket and long black skirt? “Once a year we get to skip the uniform and get dressed up,” she said. “That’s over 25 dress ups for me.” The most memorable Grand Gala performer? “The Boston Pops,” Ms. Wolf said without hesitation. Fellow usher Marilyn Hetrick wore a black sequined top. A volunteer since 1976, she’s seen her share of performers, “Boston Pops, Beverly Sills and Tony Bennet,” she said, “Yeah, Tony he might be my all-time favorite.”
Governor Markell and Mrs. Copeland made it to their seats just as the hall faded to black and a spotlit Francis Panella introduced gala co-chairs Sherrie and Don Kirtley and Penny and Chris Saridakis. A short video of the early days showed former Governor Russell W. Peterson toasting the renovation kickoff with a plastic flute, as well as fireworks launched from the roof during a Bicentennial celebration, which set ablaze several awnings on Market Street. Cue laughter. We love pyrotechnics. And we loved the Brian Setzer Orchestra. We couldn’t help noticing Mrs. Markell nodding her head in perfect time to the music. It t’was a great show, one befitting The Grand.
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