All the party-goers oohed and aahed over the flowing musical theater costumes and the sophisticated floral designs at the Broadway in Bloom Gala Banquet held Wednesday night during the Garden Club Federation of Maine’s 81st annual convention. But it was an incident that occurred earlier in the day that kept everyone chuckling.

When she addressed the party from the podium, convention chair Suzanne Bushnell alluded to the incident, saying: “For those of you at the Cooking with Edible Flowers (workshop), I’m sorry we had to do away with the candles tonight.”

This caused the ballroom at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport to erupt with laughter.

Turns out Portland chef Harding Lee Smith was doing a demo on how to cook with edible flowers, when one of his creations got a little smoky and set off the fire alarms throughout the hotel. According to Bushnell and Garden Club Federation of Maine President Kathleen Marty, once the fire alarms sounded those attending Chef Smith’s session rushed to the front of the room in hopes of snagging a sample. This is where the Freeport fire chief found the group after everyone else had evacuated the hotel.

“I built in layers to the convention in case something happened,” Bushnell told me. “But I never planned for the fire alarm to go off.”

More than a year of planning went into this year’s convention, which included three days of workshops, garden tours, demonstrations, exhibits and dinners. Bushnell, who found many ideas for the event at the Philadelphia Flower Show, said she wanted to include elements of food, fashion, art and design in the convention.

The crowning glory occurred at the Broadway in Bloom dinner, which happened to take place on the summer solstice. Before the guests gathered, eleven floral designers used a different show-stopping costume from the Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick as inspiration for an original flower arrangement.

Participating designers were Buff Harrington of the Harpswell Garden Club, Carol Smith of the Brewer Garden and Bird Club, Cyndy Bush, of the Harpswell Garden Club, Cynthia Hosmer, of the Old York Garden Club, Judy Alderman of the Lakeside Garden Club, Linda Frinsko of the Gorham Garden Club, Marilyn Traiser of the St. Mary’s Garden Club, Molly Foster of the Camden Garden Club, Nancy Atwell of the Cape Elizabeth Garden Club, Rebecca Linney of the Old York Garden Club, and Sandy Wallen of the St. Mary’s Garden Club.

The gowns and the floral designs were displayed around the perimeter of the ballroom. The designers interpreted dresses from musicals including “Romeo and Juliet,” “Cinderella,” “Hello Dolly,” “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and “Hairspray.”

Bushnell came up with the idea while at a Maine State Music Theatre show last summer. As she was leafing through the program, she noticed that her friend and fellow garden club member Elena Vandervoort was on the theater’s board. She contacted Vandervoort to share her idea and see if the theater might be interested in collaborating. A couple phone calls later, the project was under way and the theater’s resident costume designer, Kurt Alger, worked with the floral designers to select gowns.

“I wanted to pick costumes that had different textures and colors and structural elements that would translate into floral design,” Alger told me.

Maine State Music Theatre maintains a collection of costumes for more than 90 musical theater shows, which it rents to companies around the country.

When he spoke to the party, Alger said, “I chose some of these pieces because they were iconic theater characters, and some of the other things I chose were because the costumes were a character.”

He went on to tell us, “I’m honestly blown away by what was done. You can see individual styles in what everyone did.”

During dinner, I sat at a table that included Bushnell, Marty, Alger, Vandervoort, Bush and Barbara Whidden and Amy Mussman, who are both with the Maine State Music Theatre. The meal started with a green salad and then offered a choice of stuffed haddock, rosemary chicken or a vegan and gluten-free quinoa and black bean dish. All the meals were plated with edible orchids.

“We’ve had a wonderful convention,” Atwell, who served as convention registrar, told me. “I can’t believe how much people loved the garden tours.”

Atwell said more than 200 people attended the convention, with more than 100 participating in the Broadway in Bloom Gala Banquet.

Everyone lavished praise on the floral designs.

“They’re incredible, really,” said Linda Clement, who is a member of the Harpswell Garden Club. “Suzanne Bushnell did such a great job organizing the convention.”

Bobbie McGann of the Old York Garden Club told me: “This is so creative to bring these costumes out of storage.”

Some of the highest praise of the evening came from Joyce Kimball, who is the regional director of the New England garden clubs. After surveying the floral designs and the dresses, she told me, “I’ve been to a lot of garden club meetings and this is really, really good.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila