What makes a great party? With close to 400 benefits, galas and events this year, the ways to measure are many. In Seen we chronicle the good people who are engaged in making Pittsburgh an even better place to live. But what was most interesting in 2011 was how little the uncertain economy seemed to impact many of the benefits. Pittsburghers continued to be extremely generous in giving both their time and money. Whether it be the arts, culture, education, health or social services, millions were raised each month -- and sometimes in one night -- all to benefit the local community. Here are our picks for the best parties of the year.
-- Marylynn Uricchio and Patricia Sheridan
1. "British Invasion Party" for the Aspinwall Riverfront Park
In terms of pure fun, the jolly good "British Invasion Party" was a blast. The sold-out event attracted more than 500 guests in support of a grass-roots movement to purchase 8 acres of riverfront property for the Aspinwall Riverfront Park. Complete with go-go dancers, the Beatles Tribute Band and lots of miniskirts, the bash at the Fox Chapel Golf Club had energy and synergy, dinner and dancing and a younger crowd.
2. National Gala Premiere of "Teenie Harris"
The focus was on the national gala premiere of "Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story" at the Carnegie Museum of Art. "Each picture tells a story, and seeing them blown up so big brings you into the moment," said honorary chair Linda Rice Johnson, chairman of Johnson Publishing (which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines). The black-and-white-themed party presented by the Women's Committee of the Carnegie Museum of Art included the 21st Century Swing Band and a dinner of couture comfort foods.
3. Point Park University "The Playhouse Rocks Starmakers"
The 75-year history of the Pittsburgh Playhouse was celebrated during the benefit for Point Park University's Conservatory of Performing Arts. More than 400 guests turned out for the gala at Stage AE, which featured Gary Racan and the studio e Band and terrific performances by the conservatory students. Honored were Richard Rauh and actress Shirley Jones, who called the Pittsburgh Playhouse "my alma mater of 60 years."
4. Mattress Factory Urban Garden Party
They came from Hollywood to the North Side for the Mattress Factory's uber-hip Urban Garden Party, which sells out year after year. It was a mob scene in the best sense of the word, with close to 1,000 guests arriving in waves for first-rate people-watching. The Hollywood theme attracted a bevy of Audrey Hepburns, some gorgeous drag queens and numerous starlets and swashbucklers.
5. Hot and Sticky
Molten glass and melting guests were part of the "Hot & Sticky" party for the 10th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Glass Center. This blazing bash lived up to its billing thanks in part to the relentless heat wave. Vodka and rum popsicles, Fuse snow cones and icy beers helped to keep everyone cool as they enjoyed the Country Drag Stars, the Allegheny Rhythm Rangers and, hanging from the rafters, the kNOTDance Company.
6. The Royal Wedding Reception to benefit the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden
While newlyweds Prince William and his duchess, Kate, were winding down their celebration at Buckingham Palace, in Sewickley Heights the Royal Wedding Reception was just getting started. A bevy of royal look-alikes formed a receiving line as guests arrived at the Allegheny Country Club. Lord Peter and Lady Hayat Palumbo, owners of Kentuck Knob, flew in from London to serve as honorary chairs for the evening, a benefit for the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, a public garden planned for 460 acres near Settlers Cabin Park.
7. Attack Theatre's Dirty Ball
Put 1,000 highly creative people in a cavernous space with music, a barrel of rum and the energy of Attack Theatre and you get the Dirty Ball, an increasingly legendary event. The benefit for the contemporary dance company was held in a warehouse in Lawrenceville and had a pirate theme in honor of its honoree -- Post-Gazette editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers. A special performance of Sea Captain Seamus' Shameless Swashbucklers was presented Attack-style.
8. The Hillman Cancer Center Gala
Cancer affects just about everyone in some way, which is why the Hillman Cancer Center Gala is able to elicit such tremendous support. More than 800 guests attended A Future Without Cancer this year, helping to raise $3 million for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC Cancer Centers. They were rewarded with a festive dinner at Consol Energy Center and a cabaret with Tony Award winners Christine Ebersole and Brian Stokes Mitchell.
9. Epilepsy Foundation Mardi Gras
For the 17th year, the Epilepsy Foundation Western/Central Pennsylvania has taken a humdrum Tuesday night and made it fabulous. The Mardi Gras Gala is always a sellout for two simple reasons: It's fun and the cause is a good one. Beneath a canopy of balloons that turned the Westin into Bourbon Street, a Dixieland band ushered 800 guests into dinner at tables covered with masks, boas and bling -- all the better to honor this year's king and queen, Dr. Freddie and Hilda Fu.
10. The 2011 Pittsburgh Heart Ball
An Asian theme of Good Fortune/Good Health infused the 2011 Pittsburgh Heart Ball with a warm glow -- no easy feat in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center ballroom. But the cavernous black space proved to be the perfect backdrop for a canopy of lanterns, red Chinese linens and 900 guests who danced to No Bad Ju Ju or lingered at the sake bar. By evening's end nearly $1 million was raised for the American Heart Association, Allegheny Division.
When it came to arts galas we couldn't decide among them; it was a rare banner year for all! And so we salute them equally for throwing some of their best bashes yet.
Civic Light Opera Guild's 56th annual Pink Frolic Ball, "Glama Rama," with its Dorothy Draper setting and the first CLOE Award to the late Frank Sarris. (400 guests, $229,000)
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 26th annual Pointe in Time Ball, "A Journey to Neverland," was its most profitable thanks to chairs Tracy and Dr. Ken Melani and a gift from Highmark. (460 guests, $810,866)
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's "Not So Plain Jane" featured an elegant dinner followed by Jane Krakowski's cabaret performance as it celebrated the vibrancy that has been created in a city that used to sleep. (450 guests, $575,000)
Pittsburgh Opera's Maecenas XXVII honored Jim and Kathe Patrinos and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who sang "Santa Lucia" for his supper, one of many highlights during a memorable evening. (350 guests, $513,000)
Pittsburgh Public Theater for "A Red Hot Gala" with show tunes sung by "Camelot" star Hayden Tee. (450 guests, $300,000)
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Musique du Monde was nothing short of spectacular, with internationally acclaimed soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter and dinner by the Duquesne Club. (825 guests in two tiers, $770,000)
First Published January 3, 2012 5:00 AM