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The REP scares up the New Year

‘Twilight’ meets midnight at the REP’s annual Carnivale di Venezia

Posted: January 6, 2010 9:26 p.m.
Updated: January 7, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Left to right, Peter Goossens celebrates New Year's Eve with April and Jason Price with a toast.

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At the stroke of midnight, The Phantom of the Opera appeared among the masked revelers and the ghosts of theater past as they toasted the New Year in grand style at the fourth annual Carnivale di Venezia at the Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall.

The Gothic-themed, black tie affair featured more than 100 guests costumed in regal splendor like European royalty and wearing dramatic and colorful masks with wine, a lavish gourmet buffet, a champagne toast at midnight and dancing ‘til dawn on a stage decorated in early "Twilight" - proving that once again the Carnivale really is the most fun anyone can have in public on New Year's Eve.

They say pessimists stay up past midnight to make sure the old year finally leaves and optimists stay up to toast in the New Year. There was a bit of both as the crowd welcomed in what they hoped would be a better 2010 while wishing a hearty goodbye to 2009, admittedly a tough year for most - while many ruefully observed the passing of the first decade of the 21st century.

Among the spooks, vampires and zombies scaring up the New Year were prominent members of the Santa Clarita Valley Junior Chamber (the Jaycees) including Jason and April Price, Tim and Jenny Ketchepaw and Ed and Dawn Hovhannisyan.

Attending the annual New Year's Eve party out for the first time were Paul De La Cerda, director, operations and marketing at The Signal and Brandon Drake, director of corporate alliance at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

"We have great food, great wine and a wonderful group," said Bill Quinn, president of the REP. "We always want to do something classy and elegant for the New Year."

It goes without saying that theater people usually know how to have a good time. Among the REP's "usual suspects" who help organize the event were resident lighting designer Tim Christianson and resident sound manager, Steven "Nanook" Burkholder, who, along with the adorable REP newlyweds, Kristin and Phillip Pehacek, looked forward to another theater season. Joining them were Canyon Theatre Guild veterans Casey and Sarah Rock and techno genius Will Davies.

"I absolutely love it," said Davies, a film editor and the son of CTG director Mike Davies. "It's a great place to be on New Year's Eve."

Speaking of suspects, skulking around underneath a large black hat and cape was REP director Mikee Schwinn, who celebrated the evening with his fiancee, Amber Van Loon.

Also celebrating (and tending bar) was Schwinn's kid brother, Johnny Schwinn, the REP's resident stage manager who will make his directing debut with "12 Angry Men" in March. Johnny Schwinn acknowledged that the REP has become his family and home away from home.

"I am a transplant from Cleveland," he said. "I wouldn't be anywhere without the REP family to keep me strong in Los Angeles."

Among the first-time Carnivale attendees were Ed and Dana Hill, who said they really enjoyed the elaborate masked affair. Hill, the former president of the Canyon Theatre Guild, was asked to reflect on 2009. His company, Geotechnologies, Inc., sponsored the REP's '81 Series.

"I was thinking about it just today," he said. "We were way down this year, but Geotechnologies celebrated this week with a renewed contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District."

Dana Hill jumped in and said they were much more hopeful about 2010 than they were for 2009.

"There certainly have been down times this past year, but for us, we have health, family and God's blessing," Dana Hill said. "For everyone, it's been a bad year, but we still live our lives each day - for each day - and are happy for whatever we have."

Also dressed in elaborate costumes and glittering masks were first-time Carnivale attendees Lee M. and Joyce Shulman, who were thrilled that the Carnivale proved to be beyond their expectations.

The Shulmans are therapists and long-time members of the community and charitable supporters who support the REP at the Angel level.
"This is exciting, fabulous, dynamic, energetic and fun," Joyce Shulman exulted. "This is a great way to celebrate any occasion."

"We only subscribe to three newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily and The Signal," Joyce Shulman said. "We like to keep up with the community."

Up in the booth, REP supporter Peter Goossens spun the soundtrack for the evening with a mix of oldies, standards, 1980s pop, dance numbers and plenty of ear-splitting rock and roll.

RSVP Catering provided the tasty buffet.

Throughout the evening, bottles of wine, beer and champagne flowed like fountains. Bret Engelmann, proprietor of Engelmann Cellars in Fresno (www.engelmanncellars.com) donated cases of some of his signature wine, among them a 2005 Gravel Pit Syrah.

The REP's Artistic Director, Ovington Michael Owston, certainly had plenty to celebrate following a 2009 season that featured productions of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "M.A.S.H." and "A Streetcar Named Desire."

But not one to wait until midnight to party hearty, Owston dashed around marking off the hours by toasting New York at 9 p.m., Chicago and Michigan (his home state) at 10 p.m.; Denver at 11 p.m. and California at midnight.

The REP opens its sixth season on Jan. 22 with "Lost in Yonkers" and follows with "On Golden Pond," March 12 - April 10. The 2010 season continues with "12 Angry Men," "The Wedding Singer," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," and "Amadeus." The adult-themed ‘81' series will present "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" and "Sideman" by Warren Leight.

The Repertory East Playhouse, 24266 Main St., Newhall. For ticket information call (661) 288-0000 or Repeastplayhouse.org.

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