Celebrate the New Year like Gatsby at the Al. Ringling Mansion
New Year’s Eve is to champagne as parties are to Jay Gatsby.
And the Al. Ringling Mansion in Baraboo is paying homage to the titular character from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” by hosting a New Year’s Eve party complete with Gatsby-esque glamour.
“For me, you think of New Years and you think of dressing up and decadence and all of those things are Jay Gatsby,” said Kimberly “Kimba” Wawrzyniak, event coordinator for the mansion.
The mansion was once the home of circus showman Al. Ringling and begs the presence of a lavish celebration.
Saturday’s big event promises an evening of dancing, refreshments and mingling with Gatsby’s cohorts helping guests ring in the new year.
Four main actors will wander the ballroom as Jay Gatsby, Jay’s love interest Daisy Buchanan, Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan and Daisy’s friend/Nick Carraway’s love interest Jordan Baker with a few other actors mixed in as Gatsby’s guests to set the mood, according to Wawrzyniak.
Left out of the mix will be Nick Carraway — Daisy’s cousin and the narrator of “The Great Gatsby”.
“I purposely didn’t cast the narrator of the story,” Wawrzyniak said. “(The narrator) is everyone in my opinion. Every guest is telling the story and experiencing it.”
One of the actresses participating in the event is Bridget Christine Kelly who played Daisy Buchanan at a previous “Gatsby” event held last New Year’s Eve at the Big Foot Country Club in Fontana, Wisconsin.
Her costume for Saturday’s event is nearly identical to the one she wore in her previous foray as Daisy with the exception of a small wig change.
Kelly, who “devoured” the book in high school, revisits “The Great Gatsby” every year.
Her excitement for the event at the mansion, however, is fueled by the anticipation of audience participation.
“Honestly, the audience’s willingness to play is what makes this event the most successful and I can’t wait to return to the character (of Daisy),” she said.
“Who wouldn’t want to come out to such an event among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars?” she added, partially quoting a line from “Gatsby.”
Guests can mingle while sipping champagne from the champagne fountain or cut a rug to the big band sound of a seven-piece band. Dance instructors will also be on hand to help visitors learn a thing or two about dance from Gatsby’s era.
Wawrzyniak organized a similar event at the mansion with a Titanic theme last spring that involved an eight course dinner and actors in full period regalia. That event was so successful that tickets are already being sold for a repeat event in April 2017.
“Most of the events happening at the mansion are based on different time periods or history of the Mansion or the Ringlings,” Wawrzyniak said.
For instance, there was a passenger aboard the Titanic that was supposed to meet with Al. Ringling after disembarking, she said.
In the case of “Gatsby” there isn’t a historical tie to the mansion itself, but the era of the novel was a time in which Al. and Lou Ringling were still living in their 1905 red brick home.
The ornate home is an ideal setting for a glitzy night out, particularly now that the home is being carefully restored.
Joe Colossa, proprietor and co-owner of the mansion estate, said that the ownership team has spent “a couple hundred thousand dollars in renovations” since their acquisition three and a half years ago.
Colossa owns the home along with his wife Carmen and business partner Donald Horowitz.
Original hardwood floors that are found throughout the home were uncovered and several pieces of original furniture were returned to the home, he said.
“There are over 2,000 artifacts in the house belonging to the Ringling family,” Colossa said.
The ballroom where guests will ring in the New Year, however, is not original to the mansion and was added in 1948 by the Baraboo Elks Club who previously owned the building.
Only about 100 tickets will be sold for the event, although the ballroom’s capacity is more than 300, because it gives people ample room to dance, according to Colossa.
As of Thursday, tickets were still on sale.
Tickets include the champagne toast, appetizers, musical entertainment and dance instruction. There will be a cash bar.
The event costs $100 per couple, but 99 percent of the profits made by the “Gatsby” shindig goes right back into preserving the mansion, according to Colossa.
“Our approach with (events like this) has always been about keeping the spirit alive at the mansion and bringing something new to the community,” Wawrzyniak said.
Last spring’s Titanic event raised about $5,000.
“It costs about $80,000 a year just to run the house,” Colossa said. “That’s not including maintenance or restoration.”
If Saturday’s event is successful, Colossa hopes to have a New Year’s Eve party annually with different themes to keep things fresh.
Should the parties become a tradition, guests may see further changes in the ballroom such as a British style pub in one corner or a 114-year-old organ in the back.
However the mansion and its events unfold, Colossa and his family remain dedicated to the tradition of Ringling showmanship.
“We’re trying to save this house for you and for everyone else to visit and enjoy,” Colossa said.
“We live in the servant’s quarters so I always say the Ringlings still have servants,” he added with a grin.