When Debbie Allen sashayed into the Broadway Ballroom at Manhattan's Marriott Marquis hotel, it was to the raunchy downbeat of Big Spender, the signature tune of Sweet Charity. The song had delighted the opening-night audience and it roused the 750 guests at the party to a standing ovation.

Everybody, it seemed, loved Debbie Allen last week. The New York Times called her performance "sizzling." One of her biggest fans was Richard Pryor, who was among the first to scoot backstage with congratulations. Like everyone else, he had to wait nearly an hour while she dressed for the party. The delay seemed inconsequential when Debbie reappeared in a gown cut so breathtakingly low as to defy both belief and the forces of gravity.