Carnival Center Celebrates With Lavish Gala

On day three of the four-day Carnival Center for the Performing Arts' grand opening celebration, local socialites and a slew of V.I.P.s—from 2004 presidential candidate Senator John Kerry to Grammy award-winner Gloria Estefan—came out to enjoy a gala as visually creative as the center itself.

A red carpet entrance welcomed guests into the tented black tie gala celebrating the opening of the Carnival Center.

The Carnival Center for the Performing Arts opened its doors with a four-day spectacle in downtown Miami, an event so grand that several streets were forced to shut down because of it. Fred Stein, of The Creative Group Inc., produced the extensive celebration and the multiple events that took place each day. Along the way, many celebrities made appearances, from South Florida's own Gloria Estefan, who performed during the opening-day concert on October 5 to 2004 presidential hopeful Senator John Kerry, who attended day three's Ballet! Opera! Broadway! show and was a V.I.P. guest at the subsequent black tie gala.

That gala catered to those of the 1,800 guests who went to the show who were willing to pay an additional $500. Since other V.I.P.s—such as actresses Rita Moreno and Dyan Cannon, Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman, and New World Symphony artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas—were invited as well, the dinner had to be hosted in a very elaborate setting. Translation: A lot went into the decor, catering, and entertainment. Stein collaborated with Barton G. on the design and production of the gala.

“This was one of the most complex events I've ever been associated with, including the seating of more than 8,000 people at four events. To our guests, it appeared that things went off without a hitch,” said Al Milano, executive director of the Carnival Center Foundation.

The dinner took place under a fully air-conditioned, 132- by 250-foot tent EventStar erected over the parking lot across the street from the center's Knight Concert Hall—but few knew about the.phphalt below because it was hidden under flooring lifted five feet off the ground by a scaffold, courtesy of Event Flooring Professionals LLC. The lot's trees became part of the decor, with holes cut to fit in the flooring, to make it look as though the trees were brought in for the night. Under another tent—this one measuring 50 by 80 feet, a red carpet was rolled out and a Carnival Center-branded entryway welcomed guests.

Barton G. turned the large tented space into a lavish environment. He custom made fence-like structures branded with Carnival Center's logo used to separate the space into four distinct dining areas. Ivory and silver square-patterned linens dressed the tables, which were paired with chairs wearing gold- and -ivory-colored covers. Barton replicated the spiral acoustic canopy that hangs above the stage in the Knight Concert Hall into an oak chandelier. The centerpieces mixed various colors of calla lilies, orchids, and roses in towering plexiglass containers. Barton created large graphic panels of the center's architectural elements and then digitally manipulated those into art he displayed on the tent's walls. Surrounding the artwork were alternating wood squares upholstered with two hues of suede to mimic the same square patterns on the tablecloths. No space was left unused.

Restaurant Associates, the center's in-house catering company, prepared an array of hors d'oeuvres such as minted Moroccan lamb on pappadam; fresh figs with foie gras and honey; and boursin cheese, parsley, and scallion tartlet. Once seated, guests dined on a three-course meal that started with a chilled corn brisque appetizer, served with jumbo lump crab, grilled zucchini, pancetta, organic cilantro, onions, and basil oil. The entrée consisted of plantain-crusted grouper and grilled filet mignon, doled out with carrot puree, broccoli rabe, ratatouille, and passion fruit beurre blanc. For dessert, a .phpberry palm bombe (a baked Alaska with .phpberry sorbet and chocolate cake) was served on plates hand-painted with chocolate palm trees.

A live all-woman band, The Divas, played jazz, salsa, and other music all evening. For those who wanted to dance to more modern songs, the Carnival Center simultaneously hosted a late-night after-party, which ran from 10:30 PM to 3 AM.

Karla Dascal of Karla Conceptual Event Experiences and Stein worked on the after-party's decor. From the ice bar to the lounge directly across from it—which included eight banquettes, six circular lounges, high-top stools, and brushed metal high-top tables—it was hard to believe that this faux club was actually the rehearsal hall. Add to that Restaurant Associates' open bar, laser lights ranging from green to white provided by Lasernet, AVS Entertainment's indoor and outdoor water screens, and DJ Irie, and the event was reminiscent of a South Beach hotspot.

Mary Menzer and Andrew Lisi of Restaurant Associates put together a great menu for these revelers as well, including three gourmet stations: a mashed potato martini bar, a sushi buffet, and a taqueria and masa cake station. Additionally, sweets were passed around, which included yellow sun-shaped cookies, chocolate martinis, warm fudge brownies with milk, .phpberries sabayon, miniature coffee crème brulée, and flan.

Albert del Toral

Photos: Philip Greenberg (entrance, setting, appetizer, dessert); Michael Bays/MB Productions (barriers, tables, trees, band, table decor)

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