An intense electricity filled the Hall of Flags at the Chamber of Commerce Saturday evening. About 130 people, charged with energy and emotion, glided into the room, several of them singing and snapping their fingers.

It was an extremely special evening, they explained. In a few short hours, they would see the magic of singer Bobby Short at a benefit concert for the Arena Stage. Male or female, young or old, they crooned at the very mention of his name.

No one seemed particularly interested in the meal, even though they had paid $175 to attend dinner, the performance and a champagne reception, raising $45,000. Patrons couldn't wait to get to the concert. Some hummed Short favorites; others shared highlights of previous concerts.

Among the hard-core fans were Speaker of the HouseThomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.), House Majority Leader James C. Wright (D-Tex.) and Ward 2 City Councilman John Wilson.

"I've always loved Short," said O'Neill, who puffed a large cigar much of the evening. "I was a fan long before he went to Broadway. He's a beautiful person and a tremendous entertainer."

During the sold-out two-hour show, Short gave the audience every bit of what they were expecting -- overwhelming style and power. As he played Gershwin, Sondheim and Cole Porter selections, they clapped along, they bounced and they squealed. The performance was flawless. Devoted followers described it as Short at his absolute best. "He's perfect," screamed Jenine Braker from her seat. "He's the most talented man on earth."

At the reception in the Old Vat Room, Short brushed by Braker, who has been to 13 of his concerts. She is so moved by his voice, she explained, that she has even videotaped his commercials for Gloria Vanderbuilt jeans and Charlie perfume. And there he was, in the flesh. She touched his arm and nearly fainted.

There was also serious talk about the future of the arts. In her speech at the dinner, Zelda Fichandler, founder and producing director of the Arena Stage, pointed out that Japan spends $1.50 per person on the arts, Canada $6.07, Denmark $28.23 and Australia $80.

The United States, she said, spends 53 cents. "God only knows which of her angels will come through to fill in the missing dollars for us."