- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001

Wolf Trap, the countrys only National Park for the Performing Arts, advertises its open-air pavilion and summer concerts under the stars. Its beautiful — but vulnerable to weather.

The arrival of driving rain showers made that abundantly clear Friday night during Wolf Trap´s 30th annual fund-raising gala. Braving the downpour, more than 1,000 supporters showed up at the park in Vienna for a "Lullabies of Broadway"-themed dinner party.

Guests arrived in inevitably dampened black-tie attire, clutching umbrellas — though one resourceful guest walked through the wet grass with a garbage bag pulled over his head and torso — after squishing their way down a slippery red carpet to the cocktail party. This was followed by a formal dinner beneath an un-air-conditioned tent, and a musical performance by stage diva Bernadette Peters and the National Symphony Orchestra.

It was a soggy but, most seemed to agree, successful evening.

Despite the hair-frizzing humidity and a disturbing suction effect of the mud on high-heeled shoes, the mood was cheerful and charitable. The event, which cost $400 and up per person, brought in $510,000, netting a record $350,000 for the foundation´s arts-education programs in local schools. "We´ll be able to expand our program and reach more children," gushed Miriam Flaherty, Wolf Trap education director.

The fund-raising feat was accomplished with the help of some of Northern Virginia and Washington´s top business leaders and power players. Guests included District Mayor Anthony A. Williams; Mark Warner, Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia; Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; former FBI and CIA director William Webster; Northern Virginia´s Rep. Thomas M. Davis III; and former CIA director Frank Carlucci and his wife, Marcia, who is on the Wolf Trap Board.

Mr. Davis, whose district includes Wolf Trap, said he comes to this gala every year to mingle with the corporate elite (from Verizon, TRW, Lockheed Martin, etc.). "If you´re a politician," he said, "you want to be here." The event was also in the "must attend" category for Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, whose new position makes her the ultimate steward of Wolf Trap. Mrs. Norton said she hasn´t seen many shows there "Fiddler on the Roof" last week and, coincidentally, Bernadette Peters 15 years ago — but would "like to come more often."

The 100-acre park manages to showcase a range of artists, from Blues Traveler to Tony Bennett to the Beach Boys (all this season), along with such musicals as "Fiddler" and the upcoming foot-stomper "Riverdance."

The night´s focus was on the musicals. Dinner tables were decorated to evoke Broadway hits like "Phantom of the Opera" (tall candelabras) and "Annie Get Your Gun" (red-and-white checked tablecloths and a sunflower centerpiece). Waiters wore slightly creepy Phantom-style masks an extra theatrical touch that had been ordered by gala co-chairwoman Tina Small. "I thought they were going to kill me," Mrs. Small joked after dinner.

The food was meant to carry the Broadway-star theme one step further, hence the hors d´oeuvres of smoked salmon on star-shaped toast and caviar on star-shaped potato crisps, star-printed napkins and star-shaped brownies for dessert (you get the idea).

Miss Peters served as the Broadway star. In her post-dinner performance at the Filene Center, the Tony-award winner wore a slinky red gown and cooed to an enthusiastic crowd. She opened with "There´s No Business Like Show Business" and went on to, among others, "You Can´t Get a Man with a Gun" ("Annie Get Your Gun") and "I´m Flying" ("Peter Pan"). The soaking lawn was packed with her fans most in shorts, T-shirts and rain gear who joined the tuxedoed patrons for the concert despite the wetness.

Wolf Trap President and CEO Terry Jones said he didn´t think the threat of rain was a deterrent for Wolf Trap regulars. "The audiences are so faithful — they just sit on the lawn and enjoy the show."

David Birtwistle of Fairfax, who as a gala guest had a seat inside the pavilion, agreed. He said that he and his wife, Debbie, used to buy lawn tickets, and when it rained they´d just sit on blankets and pull plastic coverings up over their knees to stay warm and dry.

"It was romantic," he said, looking to his wife for confirmation.

"Yeah, right," she replied, with a laugh.

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