A hot night at Center Stage



May 21, 2006|By SLOANE BROWN

If there was a slight chill in the air, it ended as soon as you stepped through Center Stage's front door. Inside, at Center Stage's 20th annual gala, the atmosphere was hot, hot, hot.

Maybe it had to do with the evening's tropical theme. Perhaps it was the warm welcome from party co-chairs Suzan Garabedian and Elizabeth and Ken Lundeen, and Center Stage managing director Michael Ross. It could have been all the catching up with old friends, like board president Lynn Deering, Ray Mitchener, Brian Comes, Gail Kaplan, Lois Hodes, Marjorie Rodgers, Cheryl and Alonza Williams, Stuart and Suzanne Amos, Curt Decker, Karen Patten, Rose Carpenter, Rhea Feikin, Chuck Nabit, Nanny and Jack Warren, Sylvia and Eddie Brown, Jim Brady, Carole and Neil Goldberg. So many air kisses, so little time.

Of course, those Cuban rum mojitos and Caribbean-themed hors d'oeuvres helped add a little heat.

If you weren't warmed up by the end of the cocktail hour, then the evening's performance by the New Orleans-based jazz ensemble Los Hombres Calientes certainly accomplished the job. Several spicy numbers later, the group performed its encore by weaving its way through the audience, even handing out a tambourine to a few guests.

"I get to say I got to play with Los Hombres," boasted Legg Mason honcho Dick Himelfarb.

"But he'd better keep his day job," wife Margaret noted with a grin.

Next was dinner in one of several rehearsal halls, followed by dessert and dancing past midnight in Center Stage's scene shop.


His ups and downs are fun for everyone

Some people know Jim Seay as "the roller coaster guy." Trained as a rocket scientist, he worked for Hughes Aircraft in Los Angeles, then joined Six Flags / Warner Brothers to put his knowledge and skills to use by engineering major amusement park rides. A decade ago, he joined Premier Rides Inc. of Millersville, and is now the company's owner and president. Premier Rides creates attractions for major theme parks, such as the "Revenge of the Mummy Ride" for Universal Studios in both Hollywood and Florida, and "The Italian Job" at Paramount Kings Dominion. Seay, who is 46 and single, has homes in both Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Baltimore.

When you started out as a rocket scientist, did you ever think you'd end up "the roller coaster guy?"

I've always been intrigued by machines. When I was younger, I worked on cars and motorcycles. The park attractions are amazing things to build, because you're building a machine that will literally entertain millions of people and create lifelong memories for them. ... Roller coasters create strong emotions in people. Very strong emotions. There are clubs where people spend the whole summer traveling around riding roller coasters.

Does it ever get creepy?

If someone's gonna have an obsession, this is certainly a more healthy one to have. I honestly appreciate their passion. I'm not as passionate [about roller coasters] as these people are, but I appreciate them.

What are you obsessive or passionate about?

I'm obsessive about work. I am a workaholic. Part of this is that I feel a tremendous responsibility for the people who work for me. ... I've always subscribed to the "work hard, play hard" theory. Unfortunately, I don't have a good balance between the two. A typical weekend night, I'll have a boatload of people and I'm barhopping around the harbor visiting places like Kali's Court and Ruth's Chris [Steak House] and end up at Babalu. I love my boat. I love my Harley. I love my airplane, a Piper Archer. I am passionate about flying. I would say flying over the Chesapeake is one of the most amazing experiences. An hour and a half before sunset, the light on the Eastern Shore and all the inland waterways is spectacular.

Do you actually ride the rides you make?

All the time.

Do you ever get sick on them?


Did you like amusement park rides as a kid?

I did. I grew up in New York City and there were some amazing rides there. There was the Coney Island Cyclone. And there was Palisades Amusement Park. That's where I rode my first coaster and it scared the hell out of me.



Art Salute

Benefits Maryland Citizens for the Arts Foundation

Open bar, pre-awards dinner buffet, art exhibition, Governor's Arts Awards, dessert reception

Brown Center, Maryland Institute College of Art

6 p.m.

Tickets $150

7:30 p.m. awards / dessert reception only, $30

Call 410-203-1301

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