LA Pride's biggest party of the weekend: Tom Whitman's Wonderland 2010

By PMLA Gay Nightlife Examiner Brody Brown

June 10, 2010

There are a few notable weekends each summer that get the Gays and Co. seriously aflutter, and racing en masse to get tanner, leaner, and better groomed before it’s time to finally put their party pants on. Gay Pride follows Memorial Day as a kick-off to the sexiest of seasons: a concentrated weekend of even more house and pool parties, ample opportunities to show some skin, and the chance to reunite with old friends and former flames, while meeting plenty of new ones.

The largest and most ambitious party of the weekend is undoubtedly Tom Whitman’s Wonderland, a Pride-timed event the promoter has been throwing in Los Angeles since 2005.

Wandering the streets of West Hollywood and exploring the less-expensive, not as over-the-top Festival and surrounding bars is likely an easier introduction for greener types who have never been to Pride in Los Angeles before. (Or perhaps you wanted to see firsthand what a really crowded West Hollywood watering hole feels like on a Saturday night during Pride weekend?) But for many who have been through the LA Pride experience before and are looking for a bit more of an event—perhaps they’ve been to Whitman’s Wonderland before and have seen Flava, Kim English or the beloved Lady Gaga perform, or they know Sunday night at the Festival and in West Hollywood feels almost identically festive as Saturday night– this party has become a not-to-be missed tradition.

While some start planning for Pride in the few days before the weekend starts, Whitman begins planning for his mega-fete in December. With a Ferris wheel, fireworks show, ten bars, a small army of aerialists, a staff of more than 100 crew and volunteers, and more than 3,000 Pride revelers expected in attendance, this isn’t the sort of party that just comes together on its own.

But as daunting an effort that might seem to be for some, Whitman claims to be attracted to the undertaking, and says that he first started throwing the party because “I thought that LA Pride should really have a huge event that is up to par with what Pride in the entertainment capital of the world should be.”

And as for the historic location of his bash, Whitman insists “Paramount [Studios] is one of the best locations for an event in the world. It’s a world-famous back lot, home to so much LA and Hollywood history. It is really the home of Wonderland.”

For those who might bemoan how ordinary and not glamorous wandering through the LA Pride Festival on San Vicente and Santa Monica might feel, this party provides particular appeal; set in three city blocks of Paramount’s New York City street sets with everything from Brooklyn brownstones, Soho lofts and Financial District facades. Because the event starts relatively early for what most consider to be a dance event—7 PM—it allows guest to arrive, mingle, visit the bars and explore the environs a bit before the sun goes down and the vibe shifts more noticeably into a dance party.

This year Whitman promises two huge dance floors – instead of the usual one – that are set around a gigantic main stage where the majority of the evening’s entertainment takes place. Guests get down under a huge, colorful light show, dancing to beats spun by DJ Manny Lehman, who spins for this party every year.

For the 2010 party, Whitman has matched Lehman with DJ Wayne G (UK), explaining he often likes to pair Lehman with another DJ for this party, “someone who fits into both a ‘big room’ sound but also spins mainstream enough for a pride event and not a traditional ‘circuit’ sound.”

With choreographed dance numbers, aerial Cirque-style shows, a dramatic fireworks display over the dance floor, go-go boys perched high on buildings, and a number of vocal performances, Whitman definitely works to make sure the crowd stays visually dazzled. But try to pry the name of the surprise performer out of the promoter and Whitman stays mum, responding only with “I can’t tell you who the surprise performer is, but I think she sings one of the songs of 2010.” Seriously?? Sigh.

* Tickets to Wonderland can be purchased at LASC—8592 Santa Monica Blvd; PowerZone—8576 Santa Monica Blvd; and N101—6252 Romaine Street or by visiting Whitman’s website.

* Tickets are $80 for General Admission if you buy them online by tomorrow, otherwise they’re $90 at the door. Of course there is also a VIP portion of the event that benefits AIDS Project Los Angeles. VIP tickets are available for $150 and include access to a faster line for entry, 2 drink tickets, access to the VIP area, lounge, private bar, and separate restrooms.

* The VIP Platforms are also available for $2,000, which include 10 VIP passes, access to the faster line for entry, the VIP bars and restrooms, and your own raised lounge area. The package also includes initial bottle setup of vodka and mixers but alas, only six of these are available.

* The party starts at 7 PM and winds down at 3 AM.

* Keen on having a Whitman-presented Pride experience on Saturday night but can't quite bring yourself to shell out the price for a Wonderland ticket? You can also visit Whitman's Cherry Pop Pride party at Ultra Suede, with DJ Josh Peace and DJ Paulo Ramirez.