Honoree Milt Larsen, Arlene Larsen, and honoree George Burtness.

Gail Arnold

Honoree Milt Larsen, Arlene Larsen, and honoree George Burtness.

Lobero Honors George Burtness and Milt Larsen

Luminary Awards Presented at Magical Affair

On April 23, the Lobero Theatre held a marvelously entertaining affair on the stage of the Lobero Theatre for its Ghostlight Society members and their guests to celebrate the philanthropic and volunteer contributions of George Burtness and the artistic contributions of Milt Larsen.

The Ghostlight Society is comprised of the Lobero’s top tier donors who help underwrite the wide variety of performances and activities at the Lobero. About 100 people filled the Lobero stage, which was festively decorated and imbued with violet and magenta lighting. Wandering magicians from the Magic Castle entertained guests during the reception hour, while Rincon Events servers were at every turn with decadent hors-d’oeuvres.

The program featured an all-star cast, including actor and magician Steve Valentine as emcee and performances by Magic Castle magicians Christopher Hart, Mark Haslam, and Milt Larsen’s grandneice, Liberty Larsen, who charmed the audience with a sweet song and magic performance.

Board Member David Anderson presented George Burtness with the Philanthropic Luminary Award. Burtness was recognized not just for his commitment to the Lobero, but for his time and talent that he generously donates to support many other nonprofits as well. At the Lobero, he has been a major donor for many years and served on the Lobero Foundation Board for 17 years and as Board President for three. Burtness also served as Board President for Sansum Diabetes Research Institute and as President of the Cottage Hospital Volunteer Advisory Board and as a board member for myriad organizations, including the Music Academy of the West and the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. Anderson emphasized Burtness’s tremendous contributions to boards, noting that he is a very active board member, always wanting to “get in there and work and get the job done.”

Actor Fred Willard, a longtime friend of Larsen, shared how honored he was to present Larsen with the Artistic Luminary Award. Larsen was recognized for his vast accomplishments, most notably as founder of the Magic Castle, a private club in Hollywood that features world-class magic shows and is the headquarters for the Academy of Magical Arts. Larsen is the co-creator of It’s Magic!, a touring production featuring magic’s top stars. The show is in its 60th year and performs annually at The Lobero. Larsen’s amazing career includes writing songs, musicals, and stage revues with Richard Sherman, performing as a magician in films and commercials, and creating theaters. Larsen has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In accepting his award, Larsen stated that his and his wife, Arlene’s “mission in life is to have fun…in a world today that is very, very awkward and serious, we will be the Alice in Wonderland.” After thanking the Lobero for the award, Larsen declared that the Lobero “is the most magical place in all of Santa Barbara — as far as the quality and the imagination and the love of all you people here tonight who are supporting it.”

Larsen and his wife Arlene are hard at work on their latest project, the Magic Castle Cabaret, a private club tentatively set to open this November at the location of the former Montecito Events Center and Café del Sol. It will resemble a small Spanish palace and, like the Magic Castle in Hollywood, will have ornate decor and a comfortable “living room” feel. The Larsens will be bringing in the world’s best close-up magicians and variety acts for cabaret shows Thursday through Sunday. Musicians and comedians will perform on Wednesdays. “Magic appetizers” and Magic Castle chili will be served. To start, membership will be limited to a couple of hundred lucky individuals.

The Ghostlight Society inducted its first Artistic Luminary (Charles Lloyd) in 2016 and has recognized several Philanthropic Luminaries since 2010. The Lobero Theatre was originally founded in 1873 and rebuilt in 1924. It currently is the home stage for 23 community organizations and two corporate organizations. For more information about the Ghostlight Society and the Lobero Theatre in general, go to

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By Gail Arnold

Contortionist Mercy Malick.

By Gail Arnold

Board Member Janet McCann, Board Member David Anderson, and Lynn Anderson.

By Gail Arnold

Magician Liberty Larsen.

By Gail Arnold

John Gilbert and Christina Criswell.

By Gail Arnold

Bob Burtness and Nollie Lei Dawson.

By Gail Arnold

Magician Brian Gillis, Board Member Ron Morrow, Wendy Drasdo, Jim Drasdo, and Susan Morrow.

By Gail Arnold

Board Member Bo Willis, Mari McAlister, and Patrick McAlister.

By Gail Arnold

Linda Wood and Board Member Doug Wood.

By Gail Arnold

Guests enjoy the reception.

By Gail Arnold

Honoree Milt Larsen, Arlene Larsen, and honoree George Burtness.

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