The Alhambra Theatre closed its 50th season on December 31, 2017, with its fantastic, traditional New Year’s Eve Gala. The gala seems to get better and better with each passing year. If you don’t see much advertising for the event, that’s because it sells out so quickly. We have attended several celebrations in the past, and have noticed many people we have seen before are once again in the audience.

This year’s party began in the lobby and library areas, where waitstaff circulated with offerings of sophisticated appetizers and champagne flutes. Seating in the main theater followed at 6:30pm. The meal began with a choice of Caesar Salad or Lobster Bisque. The second course offered three choices. The most popular was Filet with Lobster Tail, which included butter-whipped mashed potatoes and jumbo asparagus, demi-glace, expertly plated and delicious.

The second choice was Chicken Cordon Bleu with champagne cream sauce, truffled polenta, and braised Swiss chard, a delightful and delectable dish indeed. And as always, the menu included a creative vegetarian option: Red Lentil Stew with zucchini, squash and carrot spaghetti, and with fried squash blossoms. The third course featured fried cheesecake with strawberry compote or a Mini-Baked Alaska, flambéed at the table by waitstaff.

During the past five years, the Alhambra has presented a number of tribute shows with impersonators of show-business legends such as Patsy Cline, Reba McEntire, Donna Summer, Barry White, Barbra Streisand, and Elvis Presley. This time, dinner was followed by a fantastic concert by Philip Bauer presenting the legend of Johnny Cash. Mr. Bauer has been honored by the World’s Greatest Tribute Bands, and has traveled throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand since 2008. He is one of the best tribute performers we have ever seen; Cash was with us, on stage with his dark, resonant voice. Bauer was backed up by two female vocalists and a five-piece band. Afterward, he made his way to the lobby, where he graciously posed for photos with many fans.

After a brief intermission, the twelve-piece band of Crescendo Amelia took over, playing music that ranged from the melodies of the fifties to favorites of today. Reed Meyer and Marah Lovequist were the featured vocalists; both were talented. Opportunities to listen and dance to a big band with a full horn section are limited in Jacksonville; the dance floor immediately filled up and stayed filled throughout evening.

When the music stopped, the audience began a ten-second countdown to midnight. Shouts of “Happy New Year!” filled the air, along with hundreds of balloons dropped from the ceiling; we blew noisemakers, batted the balloons about, and lifted a glass of bubbly champagne to toast the beginning of 2018. Afterward, the band resumed the music as many guests went to the breakfast buffet located in the library. The evening was a memorable occasion, filled with excitement and entertainment. And we can see why it sells out quickly every year.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.