When you reach a milestone, celebrate it. But don't let the meaning of the event get lost in the seating charts and menu deliberations. Instead, take a cue from these four mitzvahs. They show that the venerable coming-of-age ceremony can be modern and fun for young guests but still filled with meaning and memories.

REGARDS TO BROADWAY

MITZVAH: This 250-guest bat mitzvah went for a theater theme called “Encore,” courtesy of Mosaic, based in Pittsburgh. Broadway favorites “Legally Blonde,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Wicked” and “Hairspray” inspired the decor of the May 2008 event.

SOMETHING OLD: To give an extra layer of meaning to a mitzvah, some honorees select a “twin,” as this girl did. A book available at many Jewish centers provides images and descriptions of Holocaust-era children “who were not fortunate enough to celebrate this milestone,” Mosaic's owner Susie Perelman says. The honorees then “share” their mitzvah with the twin, typically recognizing the twin in a speech and including the twin's story in a program. “It's mainly a symbolic gesture,” Perelman notes, “but it really hits home with those kids.”

SOMETHING NEW: Yet this poignant element didn't cast a somber mood on the party. Instead, the design team took pointers from Broadway to create a lighthearted look. The “Legally Blonde” area had pink shag rugs and a coffee table with press-on nails and nail files epoxied onto it. A blue shag rug, giant hairspray bottle and blue wigs made up the decor in the “Hairspray” area. “Wicked” had chartreuse green rugs — a nod to the famous face of the Wicked Witch of the West — and lamps made of brooms with witch-hat shades (see photo at top). The “Little Shop of Horrors” area had a cake with tentacles, just like the show's man-eating plant Audrey II, created by TV star Duff Goldman of “Ace of Cakes.”

Perelman went for pink sophistication in the dining area with lamps custom-made to match the tablecloths and chair treatments, as well as huge beds with canopies, which provided luxurious lounging between courses.

DALLAS AS NEW YORK

MITZVAH: For the 600-guest “Morgan Takes Manhattan” bat mitzvah in November 2007, Larry Leathers Design Services and A Special Event, both of Dallas, turned a Dallas convention center into the Big Apple. This festive fête was honored with a Gala Award nomination.

SOMETHING OLD: The three-day event featured a traditional Shabbat dinner Friday night with candles and prayer. “Each table had its own challah, so [guests] broke bread together,” says Gail Waxman, chief event officer of A Special Event. Kol Zimra, an Israeli a cappella group, performed on both Friday and Saturday nights.

SOMETHING NEW: Yet, the themed party on Saturday night was all modern-day New York to the max. In fact, one initial venue challenge turned into a decor touchstone. Guests entered the party by way of a lobby, escalator, then 130-foot corridor. The event team wanted to “keep the guests from feeling like they had to work to get to the party,” says Larry Leathers, owner of Larry Leathers Design Services. So Waxman and Leathers transformed the corridor into a New York subway station complete with break dancers. At the top of the escalator, three pedicabs manned by handsome drivers took guests the final 120 feet to the event entrance. “Some of the younger guests had to take the trip twice, just for fun,” Leathers notes.

The party decor was Times Squares glam with movie poster signs, JumboTron screens and a performance by the Rockettes-style “Morganettes,” with the mitzvah girl joining in. Food made a nod to Gotham street food with pretzels, hot dogs, pizza and deli sandwiches.

TO THE MARKET

MITZVAH: Atlanta's EventScapes developed a mitzvah theme for 350 guests that was especially dear to the client's heart: Israel. The event team balanced an old marketplace feel with a modern nightclub area for this October event at the InterContinental Hotel in Atlanta.

SOMETHING OLD: To re-create the feel of an ancient Jerusalem marketplace, EventScapes used terra cotta containers, Christmas palms, low ZZ plants, lemon-lime Warneckis and galvanized steel floral buckets. And while bittersweet vines, fruits and grains graced the tabletops, the floor was the true focal point. EventScapes turned an image of a rock photographed in Israel into a gobo. “The 32-by-32-foot dance floor then became a huge ‘rock’ surface,” EventScapes' designer J. Wilbur Smith explains.

SOMETHING NEW: Smith's team looked to Tel Aviv nightlife to add youth-friendly modern elements to the event. This was accomplished with a glowing lounge setting, complete with uplit tables and plush black sofas.

Trendy food stations included a Mediterranean buffet atop a table with a terra cotta-tiled “tree” design. And nods to other cultures enriched the mix, such as an Asian food station set on shelving units decorated with bamboo and dramatic floral.

MAKE A CONNECTION

MITZVAH: Overland Park, Kan.-based ASE Group looked to technology for the theme of a bar mitzvah at Overland Park's Doubletree Hotel ballroom. The April 2008 “Ben Mitzvah” keyed on a theme of connectivity of the past, present and future with decor inspiration ranging from the honoree's family tree to high-tech gadgets. The Gala Award-winning event took place over two days and had guest counts ranging from 120 to 450.

SOMETHING OLD: “The event was about embracing the past generations up to the present,” explains Susan Duryea, director of creative services. A family tree going back six generations set the scene for the event. The family tree appeared in place settings; tables bore the name of ancestors; and banners in sepia tone touted honoree Ben's heritage.

SOMETHING NEW: Riffing on the iPod, the team sent out oversized “iBen” invitations, setting the tone for the tech-skewed connectivity theme. When invitees pushed the “play” button, they heard a recording of Ben himself inviting them to his “Ben mitzvah.” Decor at the party continued the theme with silhouettes mimicking the look of iPod commercials. The silhouettes depicted Ben playing his favorite sports in vibrant iPod case colors.

RESOURCES

ASE Group
913/339-9333
www.ase-group.com

A Special Event
214/402-5225
specialeventdallas.com

EventScapes
877/395-7928
eventscapesatlanta.com

Larry Leathers Design Services
214/274-3178

Mosaic
412/562-2800
www.partymosaic.com

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