The spotlight will shine brightly Monday at Westport's premier theater as a cadre of musical theater professionals honors Stephen Schwartz during the Westport Country Playhouse's gala, "The Magical Muse of Stephen Schwartz." A performance by Schwartz is a highly anticipated part of the program.

Along with delivering memorable entertainment, the annual gala also seeks to attract new audiences and ensure the playhouse's future. All of the proceeds from the single performance will be funneled directly back to the playhouse so the non-profit organization is able to cover expenses.

This year, Westport County Playhouse administrators and the Board of Directors reached out to different segments of the town. "We're trying to appeal to a younger audience," said board member Kim Harizman. She and her husband, Niv, are the co-chairmen of this year's event. While board members understand that "everyone in Westport would like the Westport Country Playhouse to exist," they are attempting to forge a sense of ownership and care for the historic theater with Westport's newer and younger residents.

"It's an incredible building and should be used by everyone," Harizman said. She was instrumental in making changes that would allow the theater and other space on the playhouse grounds to be rented by private organizations and groups. "There's now a lot going on there throughout the year," she noted. "We are doing everything we can to be as open and available to as many different people as possible."

Embracing a new mission, Harizman said, "We really want people to come to the theater and enjoy all it has to offer." The playhouse, for instance, has expanded educational seminars for young people. It also hosts programs and theater field trips for children living in Bridgeport, Norwalk and Greenwich.

Another program rolled out each year is the internship program. Young people interested in honing artistic, marketing, creative, financial and public relations skills in a professional environment are selected to work and live together for six to eight weeks each summer. This year, Angela Marroy Boerger, education and community programs coordinator, weeded through qualified candidates hailing from across the United States.

Like many non-profit organizations, though, the Westport Country Playhouse has not been immune to problems caused by the dismal economic climate. And, like all non-profit theaters, it cannot survive using only revenue from box office sales.

Although Artistic Director Mark Lamos describes the annual gala as "a wonderful event and a great evening and a great show," he also noted that it's an important fundraiser for the theater. "So it's important that folks attend and show their support for everything the playhouse continues to represent in Connecticut -- the highest-quality professional theater performed by world-class, award-winning artists; a beautiful playhouse building that is open to the community and its groups and businesses for events and meetings, and a series of family festivities that bring young people to the performing arts, often for the first time," Lamos said.

The gala begins at 6 p.m. Monday with an outdoor cocktail party featuring small-plate food prepared by Diane Brown. "In the past, we've done very formal sit-down dinners, but since this is on a Monday night, we're not sure people want that," Harziman said.

When Virgin Atlantic Airways signed on as a lead sponsor, the fundraising committee shifted gears a bit to a breezy flight theme for the event, incorporating motifs such as first-class seats and mini-bars from the airplanes. "We wanted to give the event some energy and excitement," Harizman said. "Virgin will also supply us with a signature cocktail drink."

Brazilian jazz music will be performed by the Joe Carter Quartet.

Coordinated by committee member Karen Parella, the gala includes a silent auction using a new hand-held device that will allow guests to place bids no matter where they are. "You will be electronically notified if there is a change made to one of your bids," Harizman explained. "You will be able to keep track of what you have bid on."

Top prize in the auction is a Virgin Atlantic Airways London Theater Experience package.

Lamos looks forward to the playhouse's 81st season, calling it "the most ambitious."

"Four great comedies, including Shakespeare's delicious `Twelfth Night' and a revival of Tennessee Williams' powerful drama, `Suddenly Last Summer,' make up the mix," Lamos said. "It's an exciting time at the playhouse these days. We sense that our community is beginning to feel the same way about this 80-year-old local treasure."

Harizman would like to sell another 50 tickets to Monday's gala. "All of our benefactor tickets are sold out and we are grateful for that," she said. "However, we are trying to bring in newer support at the patron level. We would be thrilled to sell just 50 more tickets, but either way, the theater will be full and it will be a great night." Patron tickets cost $1,000 per person.

For more information and to reserve a ticket, call Kathryn Gloor at 203-227-5137, ext. 122, or kgloor@westportplayhouse.org.