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REP gives toast to bonne année

Party: Annual New Year’s Eve event at Newhall’s Repertory East Playhouse

Posted: January 12, 2011 11:19 p.m.
Updated: January 13, 2011 4:55 a.m.

Carnivale first-timers Sara Viola and Gino Cuellar danced the night away. The event featured food by RSVP Catering, a midnight champagne toast and dancing to music that spanned genres from oldies to 1980s pop. The REP will open its seventh season on Main Street in Newhall on Jan. 21.

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Mozart and Salieri would have been proud. At the stroke of midnight, more than 100 masked revelers toasted the new year in grand style with an enthusiastic “joyeuses fêtes!” on the set of “Amadeus” during the fifth annual Carnivale di Venezia at the Repertory East Playhouse.

The European-themed, black-tie affair found the guests attired in regal splendor. It was an evening  reminiscent of high society in 18th century Paris, Vienna or Salzburg.

Billed as the Santa Clarita Valley’s most exclusive New Year’s Eve costume party, the tradition still holds, and those who have discovered the masked affair declare the fête to be “très bon.”

Throughout the evening, guests enjoyed wine and a lavish gourmet buffet by RSVP Catering, a champagne toast at midnight and dancing ’till dawn to lively dance tunes.

Naturally, at the REP, one can always count among its theater family a complement of loyal patrons, supporters and volunteers each year to toast yet another bonne année.

Among the loyal supporters this year were patrons Ed and Dawn Hovhannisyan, who enjoyed the festivities with friends Jill Jackson, and adorable REP actors and newlyweds, Kristin and Phillip Pehacek, who looked forward to yet another great season at the Newhall theater.

“This is our destination spot,” said Dawn Hovhannisyan. “We love to celebrate with our friends, who are like our family.”

Also enjoying the merriment were members of the Angel Circle (those who donate more than $1,000 to the theater) Jeff and Beth Hyde, (Jeff designed the “Amadeus” set), Jill and Bill Friedman and revelers Lee M. and Joyce Shulman, who were once again dressed in elaborate costumes and glittering masks and thrilled that the Carnivale continued to exceed expectations.

“This is exciting, fabulous, dynamic, energetic and fun,” Joyce Shulman said. “A great way to celebrate.”

Also seen in the group were some of the REP’s “usual suspects” — members who always help organize the event and make it a lovely evening.

Seen in the lobby were the REP’s lighting designer Tim Christianson with his petite amie Casey Rock and resident sound manager,  Steven “Nanook” Burkholder, who snuck in a dance with Beth Hyde shortly after midnight.

As a special touch, REP board member Jim Fairbanks took center stage at midnight, and during the countdown raised a glass to his 55th birthday as everyone sang “Happy Birthday” and “Auld Lang Syne.” After yet another successful year, REP Managing Director Mikee Schwinn toasted the new year with his bride, Amber Schwinn; they played Baron van Swieten and Constanze Weber in the REP’s just closed production of “Amadeus.”

Also, at the stroke of midnight, Schwinn became the co-artistic director of the Repertory East Playhouse, and will help carry it into its seventh season.

Also celebrating was Schwinn’s kid brother Jonny Schwinn, the REP’s resident stage manager, who made his directing debut with “12 Angry Men” in March. He looked elegant in his fitted suit that matched the lovely gown worn by his guest Heather Gibson.

“I am very excited about the new shows, especially ‘Cabaret’” and ‘The Diary of Ann Frank,’” Jonny Schwinn said.

The soundtrack for the evening featured a mix of oldies, standards, 1980s pop, dance numbers and rock and roll.

“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.”

Throughout the evening, bottles of wine, beer, champagne and spirits flowed freely from the Hydeaway Lounge in the lobby.

Bret Engelmann, proprietor of Engelmann Cellars in Fresno (, again donated some of his signature wines to provide welcome libation for the event.

Yet, at the Carnivale, old friends always meet new friends, and this year was no exception. Smaller and more elegant, the event seemed more grown up, more elegant and refined. Among those celebrating at the REP for the first time were Sara Viola and Gino Cuellar, who were impressed.

“There really isn’t anything else like it in Santa Clarita,” said Viola, a dancer. “We are absolutely thrilled. We enjoyed the wine, food and the venue is a natural for this event.”

Other first timers were Ron and Eve Moss and Leigh Gillian, who brought her date John Crisp.

“I promised myself in September that I was going to a ball this New Year’s Eve, and here we are,” Gillian said.

“We always go out on New Year’s Eve,” Eve Moss said. “We always go local when we can, and this is fabulous. Now we want to become a part of the theater.”

Tending bar throughout the evening, the REP’s Artistic Director Ovington Michael Owston said he is embarking on a new venture in 2011 with Jim Fairbanks called the Footlights program.

“We will bring students aged 16-22 into the theater and allow them to produce their theatrical productions,” Owston said. “We will mentor them to be able to manage their own acting, producing and marketing of their shows.”

The REP opens its seventh season on Jan. 21 with “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune.” The season continues with “The Diary of Ann Frank,” March 11-April 16; “Cabaret,” May 13-June 18, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” Sept. 16-Oct. 22 and “The Graduate,” Nov. 18-Dec. 17. The ‘81’ series will present “Jewtopia” from July 15-30 and “Doubt” from Aug. 12-27.

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


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