Seen's 10 best parties of 2013

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1. The Carnegie International Gala Premiere

The Carnegie International is without question the most important event in our art world, and, by extension, the Gala Premiere and Opening Night Event was the party to top all art parties. More than 1,600 guests poured into Carnegie Museum for the first glimpse of an exhibition that was three years in the making. The energy was palpable, in part because the three-tiered gala was designed as a continuous flow of activities. In a break from previous Internationals, a buffet instead of a seated dinner was served, allowing guests to mingle with artists and other visitors before entering the Music Hall for a performance by Sharon Needles. The vitality and sense of play that permeate the International were evident throughout the gala, which was simply great fun. The terrific people-watching, with a crowd that ranged from black-tie to funky, was a show in itself. Nancy Byrnes, Kitty Hillman and Jessica O'Brien chaired the gala on behalf of the CMA Women's Committee.

2. Pittsburgh Opera Maecenas XXIX

After several years at Pittsburgh Opera's headquarters, Maecenas returned to the grand stage at Benedum Center, delivering a command performance at the request of Lisa Cibik, who chaired the gala for the third time. If practice makes perfect, Dr. Cibik succeeded in wowing the 330 glamorous black-tie guests with an evening both elegant and enjoyable. The opera folks are pros at dramatic staging, and the modern luxe setting was that and more. Singing everyone into Bob Sendall's supper were Pittsburgh Opera resident artists, who performed wonderfully and reinforced the benefit's mission -- raising $375,000. The evening also honored retired Carnegie Mellon University president Jared Cohon and PNC Financial Services.

3. Botanic Garden's "Hamptons in the Heights"

With the warmth and accessibility that have made her one of America's most beloved cooks, Ina Garten made her way through a crowd of 425 guests, posing for photos with fans and listening politely to everyone's favorite recipe story. Gracious in the face of a dignified ambush, Ms. Garten served as honorary chair of "The Hamptons in the Heights," the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden benefit at Allegheny Country Club. The evening raised more than $200,000 to help build the region's first comprehensive outdoor botanic garden, situated on 460 acres near the city. Mounds of blue hydrangeas, umbrellas and flip-flops in sand buckets spelled summer fun at the chic garden party chaired by David Thor, Brigette Pavlik and Bill Kolano.

4. History Uncorked

One of the best parties for singles is still History Uncorked. This year's theme, "Peace, Love and Rock 'n' Roll," had nearly 2,000 groovy groupies mingling and moving from floor to floor at the Sen. John Heinz History Center. The party celebrated the exhibit "1968: The Year That Rocked America" while benefiting the history center. Guests could dance to a live band on the first floor or the DJ party on the fifth and view the exhibits in between. An abundance of youthful energy kept the party and people-watching at peak level all night long. The VIP ticket brought you a bit of breathing room in the VIP lounge and shorter lines for the bar while you were still able to pop out to play with the general admission ticket holders. Wherever you ended up, there were food, drink and good vibrations.

5. Mattress Factory Urban Garden Party

As guests pulled up in front of the Mattress Factory, the sounds of Motown as delivered by the El Monics greeted them in a way that brought it all back even if you weren't there the first time. So began an evening that is the envy of every nonprofit in town, a bash that's pure fun and still made $250,000 thanks to chairs Anuj and Anne Nemer Dhanda. More than 1,300 guests were lucky enough to get tickets to the sold-out Urban Garden Party, "Soul Factory: Motown at the Museum." A steady stream of music and performances by DJ Zimmie, Kierra Darshell's Divas of Drag, Title Town Soul & Funk Party, The Gaff, Zany Umbrella Circus, assorted go-go dancers, a "Soul Train" line by the MadHouse Dancers and much more, plus food and drink of every persuasion from local restaurants and purveyors, made this perennial best party a blast once again.

6. Attack Theatre's "Dirty Ball"

Filthy fun was the hallmark of Attack Theatre's eighth annual "Dirty Ball." The superhero theme brought out tights and capes and some comic characters in more R-rated attire. The party was held at the Clock Building on the South Side, a space big enough to contain the super fun generated by nearly 1,000 guests. It was the amazing creative powers of Richard Parsakian that turned the building into party central, including the popular VIP Velvet Lounge where a Superman figure soared among the partygoers. Food and drink were plentiful with the BRGR truck parked outside for bigger appetites. Attack Theatre's Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope performed before the final dance of the evening, "The Time of My Life" from "Dirty Dancing," which had everyone showing off moves.

7. Pittsburgh Symphony's Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was privileged to have the late Marvin Hamlisch as its principal pops conductor for 17 years. Given that he was also pops conductor for the Milwaukee, Dallas, Pasadena, Seattle, San Diego, Buffalo and Washington's National symphony orchestras -- in between writing the musical scores for 40 movies and eight Broadway hits including "A Chorus Line" -- his love for Pittsburgh stands out all the more. A standing-room-only crowd paid tribute to Hamlisch during "One Singular Sensation," a gala concert by the Pittsburgh Symphony featuring many Broadway stars (Idina Menzel, Brian d'Arcy James, Lucie Arnaz, Robert Klein and others) who had worked with him. His widow, Terre Hamlisch, joined chairs Dick Simmons and Jim Rohr for a private dinner after the concert for family members, friends and many of the entertainers who donated their talents to make the evening a success. The concert doubled as a benefit for the Marvin Hamlisch Pops Artistic Excellence Fund.

8. Hillman Cancer Center Gala

More than 850 guests took the chill out of Consol Energy Center as they cheered a different winning team -- the doctors, nurses, researchers and staff of UPMC Cancer Center and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. "Living Courageously: A Future Without Cancer," the 2013 Hillman Cancer Center Gala, raised an astonishing $4 million, proof that almost everyone has been touched by cancer in some way. This annual event attracts most of Pittsburgh's heavy hitters, starting with Elsie and Henry Hillman, who served as honorary chairs with Sy Holzer, president of PNC Pittsburgh. A giant stage held the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as the evening's entertainment after a welcome from chairs Rebecca Cost Snyder and Christina Cardoso.

9. Party at the Pier

Hot enough for you? That was the question when Riverlife held its annual Party at the Pier, with torches as the theme and a fire show as the entertainment. More than 700 guests gathered at the Rivers Casino Riverfront Amphitheater for the sold-out event, with a terrific cross-section of the city's movers and shakers wearing their hottest colors as the invitation suggested. Trays of colorful drinks, the prettiest view in town, tango dancers, DJ Espy and brief rides on the Gateway Clipper to see what Riverlife has accomplished kept everyone entertained. Renee and Lucas Piatt and Lisa Acquaviva and Herky Pollock co-chaired the gala, which raised $160,000.

10. Child Health Association Ball

No password was necessary for The Child Health Association of Sewickley's speakeasy-style ball, the Cha-Cha Club. The evening was a flashback to 1923, the year CHAS was created, celebrating its 90th anniversary. Guests got into the spirit and spirits of the evening, dressing in spats, hats and all manner of Jazz Age ensembles. Libations flowed, and the dance floor filled during and after dinner as bootleggers and their ladies bopped to the sounds of Jason Kendall Productions. This is a crowd that knows how to party, and the evening was a roaring success.


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