Society / Featured Parties

Sherlock Holmes Steals the Show (and the Jewels) at an Alley Ball Full of Surprises — This Is No Elementary Evening

Houston's Downtown Theatre Breaks Out the Fantastic

BY // 04.30.23
photography Priscilla Dickson and Jacob Power

There was a pickpocket on the loose at the Alley Ball.

In full view of a black-tie crowd of more than 400, a man calling himself Sherlock Holmes pilfered jewels, watches and other precious items from such luminaries as Lynn Wyatt, Tony Chase, Beth Madison and Alley board president Ken Kades, who found his undies had been removed without even realizing it.

It was all in good fun as the sneaky thief in question was actually entertainer/comedy pickpocket Bob Arno, who was eventually unmasked as an imposter by actor  Michael Stiles, the gala’s “real” detective. All in honor of the current Alley Theatre production of  Sherlock Holmes and The Case of The Jersey Lily, which is showing through May 14.

While the play was unfolding at the Alley Theatre in downtown Houston at the same time, the scene of this crime was the Post Oak Hotel ballroom, where “Bordering on the Fantastic: The Alley Salutes Sherlock Holmes 2023 Alley Ball” was in full swing.

“You’ll see that Sherlock Holmes will prove tonight that he can be in two places at once,” Alley artistic director Rob Melrose said cryptically as the gala began.

The Events Company’s Richard Flowers transformed the hotel’s Grand Ballroom into a facsimile of the famed fictional British detective’s Baker Street home, with lush blue velvet walls covered with Old Masters paintings, a drawing room with a massive faux fireplace and zebra rug, and a library with rows of bookshelves behind the stage. Oversized floral arrangements of orchids, lilies and roses mixed with fresh sheet moss, ferns and antique hydrangeas, designed by Walker Chancey, appeared in varying shapes and sizes on tables throughout the room.

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C.C. Ensell at the Alley Ball (Photo by Priscilla Dickson and Jacob Powers)
C.C. Ensell at the Alley Ball (Photo by Priscilla Dickson and Jacob Powers)

Following the pickpocket hijinks, the evening took on a more serious tone as philanthropist Cynthia A. Petrello was honored for her longtime support of the Alley, where she has served on the board for two decades and chaired the record-breaking Alley Ball in 2018. In a tribute to Petrello, Kades praised her strong support for the arts, health care, medical research and education in Houston.

“I discovered that Houston is a place of enormous talent in business, medicine, space, science and, yes, the performing arts,” Petrello said in a short speech after a prolonged standing ovation. “Most importantly, I came to appreciate the singular theme that so typifies our city.

“The drive and generosity of the private community with their can-do attitude banding together to unselfishly use their resources to solve problems and do good for our city. This is what makes Houston so special.”

Petrello also praised the Alley as “the only theater in the country with its own salaried resident group of actors.”

As she spoke, her husband Tony Petrello and family members who had flown in from the East Coast for the gala proudly looked on from a prime table in the center of the room.

The ball raised more than $1.2 million for the Alley’s artistic and educational and community engagement initiatives. Adding to the final total was a spirited live auction featuring first-class trips to New York to see various Broadway productions and a golfing vacation in Pebble Beach. The most hotly contested auction item was a walk-on role in an performance of the Alley’s holiday production of A Christmas Carol. Bidding was so fierce that organizers decided to sell it twice when it topped out at $9,000.

Lynn Wyatt opening the dance floor with Sherlock Holmes actor Michael Stiles at the Alley Ball (Photo by Priscilla Dickson and Jacob Powers)
Lynn Wyatt opening the dance floor with Sherlock Holmes actor Michael Stiles at the Alley Ball (Photo by Priscilla Dickson and Jacob Powers)

Afterwards, many guests danced the night way to the music of The Big Beyond. Lynn Wyatt was the first to hit the dance floor, dancing with Stiles to the Maroon 5 hit “Moves Like Jagger” — only the band renamed it “Moves Like Sherlock.” An elementary way to end the evening.

PC Seen: Alley Ball co-chairs Jill and Allyn Risley, Margaret Alkek Williams and David Wuthrich, Kathryn Ketelsen, Daniel and Janie Zilkha, Mady Kades, Susana Brener de Stern and Dr. Juan Stern, Alley general manager Dean Gladden and Jane Gladden, Lois and George Stark, Craig and Angela Jarchow, Steve and Christina Morse, D and Michele Verma, Greg and Loren Hill, Valerie Jalufka, Richard and Masha Lunam, Oscar Brown and Sarah Morgan, Dina Chase, Rusty and Tissy Hardin, Princess Tatiana Galitzine de Sierra and Guillermo Sierra,  Jonathan and Margaret Vaughan Cox,  Creighton and Cristina Smith, Phil and Josephine John, Kevin and Stephanie Yankowsky, Arturo Chavez, Mignon and Stephen Gill, Kevin and Francyne Davis Jacobs, Jonathan and Karen Finger, Sidney Faust, Tom Mays and Orlando Zayas, Chip Babcock and Nancy Hamilton, and Kathy and John Orton.

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