Katie Holmes and her attorney, Jonathan Wolfe
Splash News Online
12/11/2012 at 10:25 AM EST
While Katie Holmes
's ex, Tom Cruise
, was in England promoting his new movie
and prepping for Christmas with his children, she was letting her hair down at a performing arts training program benefit in New York City.
Clad in a long, purple dress by Vivienne Westwood and wearing her wavy hair down, Holmes, 33, looked cozy and comfortable shooting the breeze for several hours at Broadway Dreams Foundation
annual Champagne & Caroling Gala on Monday.
Spending much of her time at the winter-themed party hanging out with her lawyer, Jonathan Wolfe, and the director of her current Broadway play
(from which she had the night off), Dead Accounts
, Jack O'Brien, Holmes sipped champagne but abstained from the short-rib tartlet, crab cake and shrimp cocktail appetizers.
She mostly greeted fans and chatted with others in theater crowd.
One Broadway aspirant who spoke with Holmes told PEOPLE that the actress, who has received positive reviews
for her Dead Accounts
role as the sister in a Midwestern family, seemed to be in her element.
"She was just really happy to be here and felt blessed. She had a genuine happiness about her and was just loving the [theater] environment," said Sarah Stipe, 19, a Pace University student and a beneficiary of the foundation's work.
Stipe, along with some other foundation students, briefly chatted with Holmes. "I was nervous [to meet her]," said Stipe, "but she was really sweet, so it was fine. She's really beautiful – and really tall!"
Stipe further described her as "really genuine ... [She] wanted to know all about us [and] said she was really glad to be there and see us perform tonight."
Holmes also cheerfully posed for photos with the students, and, as she had promised, gave her full attention to watching the young students perform on stage – eventually leaving the party with a smile.
– Sara Hammel