By Marilyn Bauer
Enquirer staff writer
DOWNTOWN - The opening celebration for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center starts today with an exclusive, $1,000-a-plate, celebrity-studded gala.
Tonight's gala helped foot the bill for Monday's free public event, said Melody Sawyer Richardson, Freedom Center board member and co-chair of the event.
"Lighting Freedom's Way," the gala's theme, is achieved through 4,500 roses, 14 handmade wrought iron chandeliers 12 feet in diameter, 280 candles and a tent the size of a football field. The 1,500 guests will enter the tent via a yellow carpet and will be greeted by a 14-foot-tall Freedom Center logo with the U covered in red roses and the flame in white.
Passages to Freedom book signing 9-11 a.m. Freedom Theater at the Freedom Center. Limited space; RSVP to Tamara Williams, 513-333-7568 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Festival of Freedom, noon-8 p.m. A public festival with dance, music, storytelling and face painting.
12:05 p.m.: Entertainment begins: Resurrection Dance Theater of Haiti
12:25 p.m.: MTV Choose or Loose with Ian Rowe
12:40 p.m.: Tracy Walker (music)
1:40 p.m.: CeeCee Michaela (music)
1:55 p.m.: Ann Hagedorn (author)
2:10 p.m.: Garth Fagan (dance)
2:55 p.m.: Meloni Clay and Steve Woods (music)
3:10 p.m.: Kim and Reggie Harris (music)
3:30 p.m.: McGing Irish Dancers
4:15 p.m.: Firelytes Steel Drum (music)
4:30 p.m.: Art & Soul (vocalists)
4:50 p.m.: Ballet Tech of Ohio (dance)
5:30 p.m.: Sean "P. Diddy" Combs (introduction)
5:35 p.m.: Mistics (music)
5:50 p.m.: Shanti Indian Chorus (dance)
6:05 p.m.: Medasi African Dance Theater Inc.
Noon: Skywalker (storytelling)
12:30 p.m.: ArtWorks and Madcap Productions (puppet show)
1 p.m.: Women's Sekere Ensemble (music)
1:30 p.m.: Spring Staff Pillow and Andrew Smithson (storytelling)
2:10 p.m.: Kim and Reggie Harris (music)
2:40 p.m.: Patricia Ellis with Ruth Randall and Sebronett Barnes (storytelling)
3 p.m.: Gwendolyn Briley-Strand (as Harriet Tubman)
3:30 p.m.: Fred Morsel (as Frederick Douglass)
4 p.m.: Bucket Boyz and Buckettes (percussion group)
4:30 p.m.: Frisch's Marionettes
5 p.m.: Annie Ruth (storytelling)
5:30 Daryl Harris
6 p.m.: Riley's Irish Players (drama)
6:30 p.m.: Sean Combs (introduction)
6:35 p.m.: Blessid Union of Souls
7:30 p.m.: Freedom Center Chorus
7-8 p.m.: Grounds for Freedom Procession/Parade of Light
8-10 p.m.: Public Dedication, hosted by actress Angela Bassett and CNN anchor Bill Hemmer. Program scheduled to include remarks from Spencer Crew, Mayor Charlie Luken, Gov. Bob Taft, Sen. Mike DeWine, Congressman Rob Portman, first lady Laura Bush, Marian Spencer and the Rev. Damon Lynch Jr. Ends with lighting of the eternal flame and fireworks.
11 p.m.-1 a.m.: Freedom Center open
Where: 50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati riverfront
Admission: Free (the Freedom Center building will be closed during the festival)
Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
Parking: Available in Lot D, off Pete Rose Way
Miscellaneous: Lawn chairs, blankets and coolers welcome
Attendees will be able to walk through the logo or around it into the bar area, but will not be able to see farther inside the tent because of 8-foot by 8-foot colorful silk-screened images of Nelson Mandela, Ryan White, Elie Wiesel, Frederick Douglass, Mother Teresa and Mohandas Gandhi.
During the 6-7:30 p.m. reception, guests snack on darling point lobster-crab cakes, grilled shrimp and crostini topped with caprino cheese, provided by caterers Outback Steak House, Bonefish Grill and Carrabba's Italian Grill. At 8 p.m. the screens will be rolled away to reveal the fantasy interior created by local event planner and florist Michael Bourke.
"I think it is going to be breathtaking," he says. ""It is so big we will have three kitchens, three maitre d's, and three separate wait staffs."
Oprah Winfrey, actress Angela Bassett and hip hop mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs will eat from gold-banded white bone china on tablecloths made for Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck's canceled wedding.
"It was a lot of fun," Bourke said. "When I heard J-Lo and Ben Affleck weren't going to use the linens, I immediately got on the phone to (a source) in California who found the tablecloths. I thought, 'If they're good enough for J-Lo, they're good enough for us.' "
The floor-length white tablecloths are covered with a sheer overlay of white organza embellished with paillettes (spangles) interwoven with crystals. The intended effect is to make the cloths sparkle and flutter above the 4,444 yards of emerald green carpet.
Centerpieces on the 145 tables will be antique six-paned windows in varying heights covered on the left side and the bottom with white flowers.
There will be a candle "in every window" symbolizing the signal used to indicate it was safe for slaves on the run to cross the Ohio to freedom.
The menu includes seared tenderloin, oak-grilled Atlantic swordfish and lobster ravioli, served by 240 volunteers from the three restaurants catering. Dessert is the Outback's signature chocolate tower cake.
"This is one of the most exciting things we have ever been involved with," said Kent Little, joint venture partner of Outback, the restaurants' corporate parent. "I had to turn people away who wanted to be involved in this event. It's because of what the Freedom Center stands for."
Party producer Dinute Miskinis has planned for months. When the guest list jumped from the estimated 600 to 1,500, the gala outgrew its location on the Freedom Center's second floor.
Miskinis moved the event into the ditch between the Center and the Reds' stadium. She had the land regraded and ordered the tent.
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