Special Events

Galas: A Birthday Blowout

Turning 50 is nifty for a host who takes his guests through time

APLENTIFUL BUDGET and plenty of imagination helped Todd King, owner of Sky Valley, Calif.-based Gilding the Lily, create a 50th birthday party in May that transported guests from the 1950s to the new millennium.

King capitalized on the event site - the grounds of the honoree's home, complete with private 18-hole golf course. After a golf tournament, 225 guests gathered for a 7 p.m. cocktail party on the driving range.

Saluting the era of the honoree's birth, the cocktail party featured a '50s theme. Vintage cars decorated the venue, which featured a "drive-in" with soda fountain complete with red vinyl booths where guests could order cherry Cokes, chocolate shakes, burgers and fries. Servers were dressed in poodle skirts, sweater sets and white bucks and as cheerleaders with pompoms in the honoree's high school colors. Entertainers included costumed Lindy Hop dancers and performers dressed as Lucy from the television show "I Love Lucy" and Marilyn Monroe. Festive Follies of Cathedral City, Calif., supplied the costumes.

The centerpieces were soda glasses spouting carnations and colorful straws. Gilding the Lily created decor and floral for the event.

REELING IN THE YEARS After the cocktail hour, guests moved through a "time tunnel," a 200-foot tent tunnel. At each bend, guests came upon a different vignette spotlighting a decade in the honoree's life. The '60s featured hippies, the '70s, singer Tiny Tim, the '80s, Madonna, and the '90s, rap singers. Each vignette included furniture, music and decor appropriate to the time. In each, live models wearing period costumes interacted briefly with guests. The vignettes also included blowup cutouts of the honoree. Theme Warehouse of Downey, Calif., provided props.

At the end of the time tunnel, guests stepped outside to the "party pad," a canyon area decorated by King to resemble a lunar landscape.

Guests entered the pad through a truss with a salute to the honoree spelled out in three-dimensional neon lighting. They then were showered with a high-tech light show "featuring crackle red neons zipping about in `Star Wars' style," King says. Lighting instruments transmitted "clouds" into the night sky along with a star-filled "Milky Way."

SLEEK CHIC The bars and buffet stations were fashioned from neon-filled trusses. Steel-gray spandex linens from ASAP Specialty Linen of Paterson, N.J., clung to tables illuminated from above and below. Heaven or Las Vegas, based in Culver City, Calif., created the neon and the tabletops. The centerpieces were dramatic polished steel tripods from which dangled metal platforms bearing clear glass vases filled with pincushion protea. The chairs were polished steel with slate-gray upholstery. Plain, cylindrical glassware and tailored flatware gave a modern look. Unique Tabletop Rentals of Bellflower, Calif., provided china and glassware; A to Z Party Rentals, Palm Springs, Calif., and Classic Party Rentals, Palm Desert, Calif., supplied rental items. The Kitchen for Exploring Foods, Pasadena, Calif., served as caterer.

For entertainment, remotecontrolled robots greeted guests by name and took Polaroid snapshots of them, along with serving them drinks and carrying on conversations. Guests cavorted on a dance floor from Burbank, Calif.-based Towards 2000 with lighting that pulsed in time with the music.

The entertainment took place on a raised stage set off by a video wall. On the wall, a 10-minute video outlined the honoree's accomplishments and highlighted his family and friends. Also included were taped tributes to the honoree as well as footage from the golf tournament earlier in the day.

THE CAKE HAS LANDED After dinner, the lights began to flicker and then die out. An eerie blue light began to glow, and guests felt the shudder of vibrating subwoofers. A "spaceship" hovered over the stage and seemed to drop off the birthday cake. Created by Cakeworks of Los Angeles, the cake was shaped as a can of Spam. "The honoree was raised on welfare," King explains.

The evening ended with a show of fireworks, lasers and special effects followed by a performance by a name band. Talking Laser Co. of Marina del Rey, Calif., created the lighting, lasers and fireworks.

The result: "The guests were wowed from start to finish," King says.

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