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Scene & Heard

Perfect casting: Left, the cast of Florida Repertory Theatre’s God of Carnage earned the theater another rave from The Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout. Left, Heather Fitzenhagen has political aspirations.GREAT DRAMA

What a rep it’s getting … for the fourth year in a row, the Florida Repertory Theatre has won a glowing review in The Wall Street Journal. In January, Journal drama critic Terry Teachout declared that the company’s production of God of Carnage is "as good as the Broadway version" and then went on to explain why. Florida Rep Producing Artistic Director Robert Cacioppo and his cohorts have built the company into a Southwest Florida cultural treasure and a major contributor to the revitalized downtown Fort Myers scene. A curtain call for all of you.


So you’ve got this tiny restaurant in a strip mall in South Fort Myers and you’ve got a keg party going and, yes, there are rock legends AC/DC bass player Cliff Williams and Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer engaged in one hot jam session. What gives? Well, the fans of Yabo had turned out in January to celebrate the eatery’s last night in its McGregor Boulevard location. And, as usual, something special was going on beyond the wonderful Italian dishes Yabo serves up. Expansion’s the game, as owner Sean Wood and Ryan Kida are moving their five-year-old enterprise to a new spot on Summerlin Road at the Villages of HealthPark. May that funky, eclectic vibe transfer over along with the pots, pans and tasty concoctions. I’m sure it will.


Heather Fitzenhagen plays big. This mother of two, attorney and philanthropist is known, for example, for her legendary holiday home decorations, and she and her husband didn’t disappoint any of their nearly 100 friends who gathered at their Fort Myers home the Friday before Christmas to celebrate the season. Guests included Sandy Stilwell, Erleene Sanders, former Fort Myers Mayor Jim Humphrey and his wife, Nancy, and Karen and David Crowther. And there’s more big news to report. Heather is running for the state house. With this gal’s brains, heart and incredible work ethic, Sunshine State voters will be getting quite a candidate.


Guests who showed up for what they thought was a belated birthday party for State Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto in December were treated to a huge surprise. They found themselves attending a wedding reception. The Republican senator, who represents parts of Lee County, and Fort Myers attorney Bruce Strayhorn tied the knot a few days after Christmas at a restaurant in Palm Beach. Their under-the-radar relationship had been rumored for years. Strayhorn, by the way, is known to support Democratic causes. Three cheers for this Republican-Democratic merger, a rare show of bipartisanship these days.


Hope for haiti remembered the second anniversary of the devastating earthquake with a breakfast to thank supporters and update them on the nonprofit’s progress over the past two years. Some 60 people enjoyed an exquisite meal at Blue Provence hosted by the owners and long-time Hope for Haiti supporters Jacques and Lysielle Cariot. Executive Director Tiffany Kuehner welcomed everyone and introduced her grandmother, JoAnne Kuehner, the founder and chair. JoAnne started Hope for Haiti 22 years ago, and went from supporting one child to providing $100 million in education, health care and nutrition to the people of this island nation.


A charity fashion show and luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in December raised more than $50,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and also featured some very touching storylines. News anchors Patrick Nolan and Lois Thome were among the celebrity guests and the proceedings got an emotional boost when (1) Children’s Hospital patient Amanda Cregmiles, a survivor of leukemia, took to the runway and (2) Chase Hoover subbed in the show for his brother Jerred—who was readmitted to the hospital just before the luncheon—and is also donating his bone marrow to Jerred. We were certainly treated to lots of heart on display along with the fashions.


If you’re cordially invited to the Waldorf Astoria Naples this year, you better head to what you knew as the Naples Grande (or the Naples Registry Resort before that). The parent company, Hilton International, is hoping to capitalize on the luxe image of the Waldorf Astoria name and says there will be improvements to the property made throughout the year. Bring on the amenities, Hilton people, and you’ll have no trouble making a name for yourselves.


Speaking of luxury resorts, The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort celebrated its 10th anniversary in January. Hotel Manager Darryll Adams and Bruce Seigel, the director of sales and marketing, recognized 25 employees for their 10 years of service at the hotel. Local dignitaries included Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, Jerry Thirion, manager of the Bay Colony Golf Club, and Wilma Boyd, owner of Preferred Travel.


Donating—with some shopping thrown in—proved irresistible for more than 100 devotees who attended the Saks Celebration of Charities party at Saks Fifth Avenue at Bell Tower Shops during the holidays. Hosted by community philanthropists Lou Pontius, Robbie Roepstorff, Brenda Tate, Linda Uhler and Amy Gravina, the event raised nearly $9,000 for 46 charities. Guests could give to the charity of their choice and then do a little browsing and buying in the store. The evening featured a runway show highlighting the latest Tadashi fashions. The lucky winner of a brand new red Tadashi gown? Amy herself. Not a bad door prize to walk off with.


Now you know where your next oxtail meatball or swordfish roll can come from.They’re on the menu of Il Cielo, the newest gourmet Italian restaurant to open its doors on Sanibel Island. Celebrity chef Loretta Paganini, host of Simply Gourmet on the Discovery Channel, along with Milan chef Marco Corricelli are the masterminds behind the new enterprise, and they welcomed more than 600 guests to its opening night in January. Chef Paganini is a familiar face on the island in the winter, and I bet lots of foodies will be looking forward, too, to her very popular cooking classes.


How gratifying it was to see the impact of the moving, tasteful and entertaining Thank You Myra Days festivities at the Phil in January. There were big, enthusiastic crowds in this fitting tribute to our legendary Myra Janco Daniels. I just loved one of the stories told by someone who worked for her for many years. He said that Myra was concerned about his weight and invited him over for a power walk through her Pelican Bay neighborhood. They had just gotten started when lively conversation broke out, and he noted that Myra is well-known for not walking and talking at the same time. So they stopped. And talked a little bit. And they finally moved on, only to stop again for more lengthy conversation. After a little more of this stop-and-start "walk," Myra finally said, "Listen, I’m starved. Why don’t you come back to the house and I’ll make you some pancakes?" Thus ended, in delicious fashion, her version of a weight-watcher’s power walk. Ah, Myra, you came, you cooked, you conquered. What a force of nature you’ve been in our paradise here.

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